National Board Dvar Torah: Parshat Shmini

Posted on March 31, 2016
Sarah Engel, National President, West Coast NCSY.

Sarah Engel, National President, West Coast NCSY.

Pizza. Yup, it’s hot, cheese-y, crunchy and just plain delicious. There’s something about buying it from a store, and getting it in the cute flat boxes with the little stick-figure pizza delivery boy logo. Whenever I travel to a bigger Jewish community, I always try to eat pizza, because where I live, there are no kosher pizza restaurants.

Sure, it’s annoying. Keeping kosher is never easy. Even if I try to make homemade pizza, for instance, we have to go to a special store to get kosher cheese, wash and check the basil leaves for microscopic bugs, and make sure to separate a piece of the dough in remembrance of the bread in the Beit HaMikdash… And don’t even think about topping my creation with pepperoni!

It’s so easy to get lost in all the details, many of which are described at great length in this week’s Parsha, Parshat Shemini. Especially when hunger pangs begin to gnaw at my stomach, nothing seems more delicious than ice cream from that stand in the airport, but amidst the superficial layer of frustration and seemingly fanatic religiosity, there are glimmering insights that can be understood from the mitzvot regarding the practice of keeping kosher.

First and foremost, as we’ve established above, keeping kosher makes absolutely no logical sense. Is it really so imperative that I refrain from eating seafood? Is a hamburger intrinsically holier than a cheeseburger ? It seems strange, however it is this absurdity which makes the commandment so beautiful.

A relationship is characterized by the two participants in the relationship doing things for one another because they love each other dearly, not necessarily because it makes logical sense. If your friend likes to eat ice cream out of a mug, even if it makes no logical sense, you’ll serve her the ice cream in a mug because you know she likes it that way, and you want to make her happy.

The Jewish people have a special relationship with G-d. When G-d asks us to do something even when it makes no sense, we joyfully follow His will as a reminder both to ourselves and to Him that we love Him, and we’ll do our best to satisfy His desires even when it seems illogical. Keeping kosher is a constant reminder that we are a part of something greater. It reminds us of our spirituality, even when partaking in one of the most physical aspects of our existence.

So yes, passing up on the delicious pizza from the corner store is definitely not easy, but in doing so I remind myself that my life is not just for me and my own personal desires. Rather, I have a special relationship with G-d. Because I value this relationship, I do my best to satisfy His desires even when they make no sense to me. Even when fulfilling one of my most basic human needs of sustenance, I am forced to remember that my life is more than just physical subsistence. Hopefully, it is one that is infused with the spirituality that results as a means of my relationship with the Divine.

Shabbat Shalom!