Shemini and Hahodesh
What's the Difference Anymore?
You must distinguish between the unclean and the clean, between living creatures that may be eaten and those that may not be eaten. (Vayikra / Leviticus 11:47).
When was the last time someone told you what to eat? When you are young it's usually your mother and later on in life, it's your doctor. And why is that? Why do we need to be told such things? Obviously children don't have what it takes to eat properly. If it were up to them all they would eat is junk food. Its worse when they are babies. I can't believe what some of my kids have tried to digest. It makes me think that there is no way that their taste buds are developed when they are infants. Unless they are guided in what they eat they would get sick and die.
And then when we get older, many of us find ourselves again being told what to eat. But don't we adults know better? I guess not. We tend to go after the things we like rather than what is good for us. And if we let our appetites guide us, we too may get sick and die.
In the Torah God tells the people of Israel, "You may eat this, but don't eat that." God's motive behind these instructions is not exactly the same as that of our mothers and doctors, however. While I am sure God, like our mothers, also wants us to grow up to be big boys and girls, but like our doctors, not too big, he has a much greater goal in mind.
God says "You must distinguish between the unclean and the clean." His main concern was not our health, but our spiritual state. There was something about the avoidance of certain animals that made a difference in the people's relationship to God. We are never really told what that is. But the ultimate effect of such customs was to separate these people from the other nations around them. Restricting their diet put up a barrier between Israel and the other nations. Once they could not eat the foods of others, they would have a difficult time closely socializing with them.
But logically we may have difficulty with such regulations. Is there really a huge difference between the meat of a cow and the meat of a pig? Are all shell fish really that bad? Why would God forbid digesting these things? Many people have tried to find reasons behind God's instructions, looking for health benefits, for example. But I think this misses the point.
God was teaching the people that not everything in life was the same. There was a huge difference between the kind of life God was telling them to live and that of the surrounding peoples. Just like not all foods are the same, not all behavior is the same.
And just like children, who don't know any better, this is not something that we can figure out on our own. We need to be told by someone who knows better.
More and more in our society we are taught that how we behave makes no difference. We are told that the most important thing in life is to decide what we want to do. "As long as it feels good, do it!" is our culture's heart cry.
But not everything available in life is good for us. We need to distinguish between the good and the bad. It is ironic that there is more concern today over what people eat, be it kosher, vegetarian, low fat, high fiber, etc, than over how they live.
He who knows what is best to put in our mouths, also knows how we should live. God's ways are not about restriction, but about our well being.
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