THE EIGHTH DAY
After the Tabernacle was erected it was not until the eighth day that the Divine Presence was officially there (Rashi on Lev. 9:23).
What about the previous seven days? Surely there were daily offerings, implying that God was present?
The Lubavitcher Rebbe said that there was something lacking, i.e. the element of “chesed”, Divine pleasure.
God gave the people of Israel seven days to get used to worshipping Him. After the initial week the people were ready for a higher level of “Shechinah” (God’s indwelling). It was not simply the people’s sacrifices that brought about this reward. Moses said, “May it be God’s will that the Shechinah reside in the actions performed by your hands” (Rashi).
What expressed Israel’s love of God was more than ritual but ethics. The way they lived their lives was shown not only in their offerings but in the quality of their relationships with one another. Being good to each other was the first step in showing love for God.
Some prayer books convey this message on page one, when they say “Love your neighbour as yourself” is the preface to “Love the Lord your God”.
LEAVING OUT THE LETTERS
This sidra spells out the details of many of the Jewish dietary laws.
It is clear from the relevant verses that every aspect of kashrut requires close attention. Naturally, if one is going to eat meat, the shochet has to be very carefully trained and must be scrupulous and conscientious in the way he carries out his task.
A similar rule applies to every Jewish profession. An example is given in the Talmud (Eruvin 13a) where Rabbi Me’ir is asked by Rabbi Yishma’el what his occupation is. When Rabbi Me’ir replies that he is a scribe (a “sofer”), Rabbi Yishma’el says, “Be exceedingly careful with your work because it is the work of Heaven. You might add a letter or delete a letter and bring destruction to the world.”
Rashi gives an example. He says that if the scribe leaves out the aleph of “emet” in the phrase “HaShem E-lohechem Emet” (“The Lord your God is true”) he might end up by writing “met” (“dead”) which would be shockingly blasphemous, sinful and highly reprehensible.
Look at other Jewish professions and you see the how broadly the duty of care operates.
An important example is the shadchan, the matchmaker. Though shadchanim are sometimes – in the hands of writers and caricaturists – mere figures of fun, they have a very great and sacred responsibility. Deciding that two people are right for each other requires scrupulous care. Without it a marriage can be doomed before it starts or destroyed at any point in its history.
EATING & JEWISH IDENTITY
The portion ends (Lev. 11) with a summary of the laws of kashrut.
The subject of food and kashrut plays such a large role in Jewish personal, family and communal life that a critic has spoken of Judaism as “pot-and-pantheism”.
It’s a witty phrase but not entirely fair.
The Jewish view is that every human activity, not excluding one’s appetite, is a matter of interest to religion.
Eating in the Jewish way defines your Jewish identity, not just because of sociology (“this is what Jews do”) but because of spirituality (“this is what God asks of me”), psychology (“this shows I am master of myself”), ethics (“this is how I show concern for animals and the environment”) and community (“this is how I show respect for others when they know I will not give them food they cannot eat”).
By Rabbi Raymond Apple
Rabbi Raymond Apple was for many years Australia’s highest profile rabbi and the leading spokesman on Jewish religious issues. After serving congregations in London, Rabbi Apple was chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, for 32 years. He also held many public roles, particularly in the fields of chaplaincy, interfaith dialogue and Freemasonry, and is the recipient of several national and civic honours. Now retired, he lives in Jerusalem and blogs at http://www.oztorah.com