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Parshat Sh'mini


"On the 8th day" of the drawn-out ordination of Aaron and his sons, after Aaron performs sacrifices in front of the entire community, Aaron "lifted his hands toward the people and blessed them." But suddenly Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, when "the Presence of the Lord appeared to all the people" made a fatal error, the specifics of which have been debated by commentators for centuries:

"....(T)hey offered before the Lord alien fire, which He had not enjoined upon them. And fire came forth from the Lord and consumed them; thus they died at the instance of the Lord." Their father's response? "And Aaron was silent."

Shabbat Mom finds herself struck dumb by this devastating moment--in which Aaron's sons seem unduly punished for making a mistake--but also by Aaron's inexplicable response. Shabbat Mom is no Torah scholar, but wonders if Aaron's stoic acceptance can be interpreted as his inability to process the worst pain a parent can experience, the loss of a child. The remainder of the parsha is much less troubling; it establishes the laws of Kashrut (also known as the reasons Shabbat Mom loves eco-friendly disposable plates).

"'These are the creatures that you may eat from among all the land animals: any animal that has true hoofs, with clefts through the hoofs, and that chews the cud...'" (though not the camel or hare). He continues, "'These you may eat of all that live in the water--anything...that has fins and scales...'" (but no bottom feeders or shellfish). The eagle, the vulture, and the owl are out; but you may enjoy (not that you would) the locust, cricket, and grasshopper. Yet "'All things that swarm upon the earth are an abomination.'"

To all the kosher restaurants, caterers, and supermarkets on Shabbat Mom's payroll: Nowhere in the text does G-d tell you to charge twice as much as your non-kosher counterparts! What gives? Sh'mini ends with laws about impurity. Simply touching the carcass of a forbidden animal renders a person "impure until evening" (even after they wash their clothes). If the carcass "falls into an earthen vessel" it must be broken and never used again. G-d's focus on food rules--confounding many a rebellious kosher teen, including a couple that Shabbat Mom knows personally--is made perfectly clear. "'You shall not make yourselves impure...For I the Lord am He who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your G-d: you shall be holy for I am holy."

Shabbat Shalom!

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