Our torah portion – Shemini- relates to us as it is on the eighth day of the inauguration of the tabernacle and our birthday is on the eighth day of March.
Shemini is one of the most tragic and disturbing portions in the whole Torah, yet it is filled with many lessons that we can apply to our lives today.
It is set at the time of the dedication of the Tabernacle—the tent that served the Israelites as their Sanctuary during the forty years of wanderings in the Sinai Desert. With the building finally complete, the dedication ritual begins. Moses and Aaron offer sacrifice as instructed by G-d; their sacrifice is accepted as a fire descends from heaven to consume the offering.
When they saw this marvelous sign of G-d’s presence, two of Aaron’s four sons, Nadav and Avihu, offer a similar sacrifice. Then they make an additional, fatal mistake: they bring “a strange fire” to the sacrifice. Whatever the “strange fire” was, G-d was not happy and their punishment was fast and furious. Once again a fire descends from heaven. Only this time, instead of consuming the offering, the flame engulfs the two young men, and they die.
Nadav and Avihu were filled with good intentions when they came to sacrifice before G-d, but they did not take advice from those who could and would help them. They wanted to match heavenly fire with their own fire. They died because they added to the ritual something that G-d had not commanded. When interpreting this lesson in our everyday lives we should not just act on our inner drives, or wants and needs. We should be willing to listen to advice whether we chose to follow it or not.
After Moses coordinates the removal of Nadav and Avihu’s bodies, he then tells Aaron and his surviving sons not to mourn and not to leave their posts in the Tabernacle. God speaks to Aaron, commanding the new priests to not be under the influence of wine or beer while in the Tabernacle. Following this we are given a list of the animals that are proper for the Israelites to eat and those that are forbidden.
The fact that our portion deals with food is interesting as anyone who has known us from birth will know that food was never really top of our list. In fact we drove everyone who ever had to feed us mad as we were so fussy and so particular about what we ate and how it was prepared and what we would eat with it! Thank goodness for the Kosher laws as this means that we are not allowed to eat snake, eel or anything that slides and doesn’t walk on the ground! Only fish with scales and fins which means that we can eat as much sushi as we like and any birds of prey are prohibited which is just as well as we would never eat them anyway!
The reasons for the Kosher laws have been discussed over thousands of years – from… G-d said we should, to keep Kosher is for health reasons, to practice self control and discipline to the fact that it will make one more spiritual but we feel that the most important reason for keeping Kosher and for eating the foods we do when we do must be to allow us to feel a closer bond with centuries of Jews who have followed the same practices. The guidelines came from G-d and they are guidelines only and are meant to unite us as Jews. Food plays such an important role in our lives as Jews with the traditions of serving the same foods for certain festivals and eating our meals according to an order as with Passover. Our family dinner every evening is where we catch up with each other at the end of the day.
Our Shabbats are where we see our Grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles and our celebrations always revolve around food. Even our best holidays in Plett will be remembered for the delicious food that mum spends hours and hours preparing. Food too is so connected to us through Pick ‘n Pay – the company our Grandpa founded – even though he doesn’t know how to cook except for making peanit butter sandwiches!
Through guidelines such as the Kosher laws, we are forced to think about what we eat, how our food is farmed and slaughtered and how we prepare our food. In the world today with the world’s oceans being over harvested, the killing of wildlife in African countries, the inhumane slaughtering of animals for food in certain Asian countries we need a greater awareness of what we are doing to our fragile ecosystems globally. Practicing this awareness and passing it on to future generations will help to ensure that we have sustainable food industries going forward.
Alex and Tom
A little food for thought:
Like Nadav and Avihu we also make mistakes but we have been lucky to have been given many chances and hopefully have learnt from those mistakes.
Speaking of learning our preparation for today has taken many hours of sacrifice, practice and learning with all our teachers, Rabbi Greg, N’Tanya and Mel and we thank them all for their time and patience.