Shabbat Shalom Dear Readers Parshat Shemini 5776

April 1, 2016

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This week, parshat Shemini, candle lighting will be at 7:03 PM in Brooklyn New York. Candle lighting is 18 minutes before sunset. Chabad.org has a section of their web site where you can look up the time for candle lighting where you live. In addition, you can find articles to print out and read on Shabbat or read on-line after Shabbat. Both Chabad.org and Aish.com have a wealth of articles that are both entertaining and educational.

This week, Chabad.org has an article about producing matzo secretly under Soviet rule. Under communism, some determined individuals maintained a high level of observation and observance, which had a ripple effect throughout the Jewish population of the Soviet Union.

Aish.com has an article that compares Europe’s experience with Muslim extremism and the United States. What is often overlooked about Islamic extremism is that it threatens Muslims at least as much as it threatens non-Muslims.

 

This week’s parsha is most notable for its presentation of the parameters of the kosher and non kosher species. Water dwelling creatures must have scales and fins, and beasts must chew their cud and have split hoofs. It is interesting that the most quintessentially non kosher species, the pig, has a split hoof bud does not chew its cud. This makes for a species that looks kosher but is internally completely non kosher. It is considered worse to put on false and misleading appearances rather than to be openly non kosher like a horse or a rabbit.

There are various lessons that are derived from which animals are considered kosher or non kosher. The chasidah, for instance is a bird that is loving and kind to members of its own species and cruel to other birds. From this is derived the lesson that one should have some sensitivity to humanity outside one’s own family and ethnic group.

 

These are two of many examples of what might be considered a “ritual” commandment that has no implications for personal or societal betterment. In reality, there are lessons just below the surface that add an entire new dimension to an understanding of the Torah. It is very rewarding to find such buried wisdom in Torah portions that look less interesting on the surface than portions with a narrative or a dialogue.

The laws of kosher birds are more complex and harder to present succinctly. Despite this, there are hidden bits of instruction in the laws. One of the non kosher birds, for instance is called a chasidah. It is kind to its own species and cruel to other species. Needless to say, this is not considered to be a desirable character trait to internalise.

It is only when commandments that are considered “ritual” such as keeping kosher are observed superficially that there is a disconnect between such commandments and commandments governing social behavior. Upon deeper reflection, there is a connection between the two types of commandments. Through study and reflection, the commandments are part of a united whole. It is important to be mindful of this as a goal in Jewish observance.

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