Things that are scary…
Riffing off of Beth’s previous post on Friday the 13th, I got to thinking about this week’s Parsha (Torah portion) – Shemini. This weeks “scary” portion contains the injunction against eating unkosher food:
â€œSpeak to the children of Israel saying: these are the creatures that you may eat from among all the animals that are on the earth: Every animal that has a split hoof and chews and brings up its cud, that (is the animal) you may eat….â€
(VaYikra – Leviticus – 11:2-3)
So why is there so much concern about what we eat? What are the reasons for these rules? Well, let’s take a look at the three types or rules and mitzvot that the Torah offers:
First there’s a Mishpat. Laws that fall under this category are really easy to comprehend, things like “don’t murder” or “don’t steal.” Any functional society needs rules like these in order to remain viable and to thrive. These form the foundations of Social Contract theory in that any rationally arrived at set of rules meant to be the basis for social intercourse in just society would include these laws.
Then there’s a Torah which is a Mitzvah that we would not have arrived at on our own, but upon reflection, seems to confer a positive benefit. For instance, the concept of the Sabbath where we set aside one day of the week to be a day of rest, makes sense when one thinks about it, but is not something that we would necessarily have figured out ourselves.
And then there’s a Chok, a law or rule that is completely incomprehensible and for which no reason is offered. Judaism has many of these rules like the prohibition against wearing wool and linen together, or the notion that the ashes of a Red Heifer can cleanse a person who was in contact with a dead body, or the notion of kosher food which is contained in this week’s parsha.
Some people view chukim as articles of faith not requiring any further contemplation or investigation. But of course nothing is ever that simple in Judaism. The enlightened approach is a dichotomous one that contains conflicting elements – ie, follow all the chukim, but contemplate their meaning too. The Sefer Ha Chinuch (Book of Knowledge), in response to the notion that a righteous person lives by faith alone, responds “A fool walks in darkness” and Maimonides, in his discussion of chukim suggests that “It is worthy to examine them…” The notion that such examination is worthy coexists with the notion that even after all the examination, none of it makes sense, you should still adhere to the chukim.
If you think about it, it’s kind of trippy. But ultimately it’s about love, faith and trust – concepts that are equally comforting and scary. If one believes in God and God’s love, and that all mitzvot are a communication from God, then it follows that these mitzvot impart some benefit, even if such benefit is not immediately comprehensible.
The same thing applies in most healthy personal relationships where love and trust exist. The more you love someone, the more you open yourself up to them and trust them. And if someone you love asks something of you, even if it is difficult and makes no sense, you do it because of the trust. Opening yourself up in such a way makes you vulnerable but faith and love serve to ease the scariness of the whole process. This dynamic also pertains to one’s relationship to God.
However, even with all this love and faith and everything else, an examination of the issues involved never hurts. And just like you ought not give your love and trust freely to just anyone, it’s beneficial to look at some of the possible reasons underlying otherwise difficult to fathom chukim.
This post was inspired, I would say almost copied verbatim from an online Dvar Torah by Rav Binny Friedman at Isralight. I would urge you to click on the link above and read further about some of the reasons behind the kosher chukim. As for me, I kind of grooved on the idea of faith and reason, coexisting together in a person’s relationship with God and how it relates to the coexistence of fear and trust in an intimate setting between two people.
Food (kosher?) for thought. Shabbat Shalom.