Monday, April 16, 2012

Me, Myself, and My Community

Parshat Shemini
29 Nisan 5772 / April 20 – 21, 2012
Vayikra 9:1 – 11:40

Me, Myself, and My Community
by Steph Snyder, MH San Diego, Community Member


At first glance, this Torah portion is a frustrating series of confusing and often contradictory events. The portion begins with G-d appearing to His people after they had prepared a sacrifice. This is an awesome and joyous occasion:

“[...] And all the people saw, and shouted, and fell on their faces” [Leviticus 9:24]

However, shortly thereafter, a tragedy ensues. Two of Aaron’s sons, upon offering G-d an unrequested flame, are consumed by fire from G-d. Following this, Aaron is surprisingly silent, and Moses, his own brother, forbids Aaron and his remaining sons to mourn properly. To further complicate matters, instead of a clarification or reflection upon what has happened, the portion goes on to explain the ways in which we are to conduct ourselves in the realm of what we eat and drink, such that we can be “clean”.

In the simplest of terms, we start with the holiest of holy (G-d appears before his people in an awesome display) only to digress into the killing of 2 people and a menu.

Through the seemingly chaotic turn of events in this passage, I think there is a consistent message that begins with the punishment of Aaron’s sons. The message is as follows: In order to be complete and holy (above the “basics”), you need to first learn the “basics”: (1) know who you are, (2) know your role in our community, (3) know how to be who you are, and finally (4) know how to fulfill your role in our community.

Aaron’s sons went above what was asked of them. Drunk on the thought of being above the community, they showed no humility, no sense of belonging within the community. Moses recognized this, and doesn’t let Aaron and his remaining sons mourn, but asks that they let the act of mourning fall to their “kinsman [and] all the house of Israel”, emphasizing the importance of community.

To further teach us self-awareness and how to be a part of a community, G-d then gives us the kosher laws. Food is a basic necessity and nourishment. It’s what builds us and sustains us, but it’s also what unites us. Food gives us something to gather around and to share. The kosher laws, centered on food, therefore help us to define ourselves and to build a community. They are a gift of awareness of our actions in order to invoke thoughts of our identity and role in society.

The sentiment and take away message of this week’s Torah portion is simply to constantly remind yourself of who you are, be true to yourself and be true to your role in our community.


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