Shemini Passover: The holiness of discernment

discernmentWell, here we are in the middle of Passover, yet as always, there is another weekly Torah portion.  This time, it’s Shemini, and in my beautiful precious JPS Mikraot G’dolot, (it’s a big book with the bi-lingual Torah text and commentary in English; it’s AMAZING!) with which I engage and study each week with my also) beautiful, precious Torah class, there is a great big coffee stain on this parasha.  I always bring coffee to class, and clearly, a couple of years ago, when we were studying this section, I must have gotten very excited and spilled my coffee on Ibn Ezra’s commentary to verse 23 of Leviticus Chapter 9.  We were coming to an exciting part of the story.

Things must have calmed down by Chapter 11, when we learn the first laws of kashrut, or the Jewish dietary laws, because there are no coffee stains there.  Makes sense that we’re in the middle of Pesach now , too, when the dietary laws have an additional layer or two of complexity.  Why are they there?

There is a line in this section that explains much for me:  “….for you must distinguish between the holy/special and the regular/unspecial” (Lev. 10:10) …bein  hakodesh uvein hachol… Most translations use the word “profane” for chol; I do not, because it’s not profane, it’s just not holy/special.  Chol is regular, it’s Tuesday, it’s the work week, it’s our ordinary days that we all must do so we can get to the special days.  They’re not bad, they’re just not holy.

We are a discerning people; the Torah tells us to be that way.  The traditions of kashrut, or kosher,  are an example.  So are the traditions of Passover and leavening (chametz).  You have got to pay attention.  And paying attention is exactly the point. Pay attention to what you put in your mouth.  Pay attention to what you do with your body.  Pay attention to what you do with your money, your possessions, your family, your home, your calendar, your days on and days off…you get the point.

Discernment and distinction is what Leviticus is all about, and so is Pesach.  Make that distinction, so that you know what is special, what’s unique about this week.  Make those distinctions so that with every bite you take, you’re making a statement of identity, history, tradition and values.

Does a bagel taste good?  Of course it does!  But there’s a time for bagels and a time for matza.  This is the time for matza, all week long. If you’ve never “kept” Passover past the first day or so, or if you’ve only stayed away from bread, maybe this is your chance to try something new (or rather, try something very old.)  Try it, find the meaning, find the specialness, find the kadosh.

The coffee stains in my text remind me that Torah study is a part of my regular days, certainly part of my regular Tuesdays.  Torah and coffee, Tuesdays and Torah, I have incorporated these words into my very daily routine.  They are both kodesh and chol… both special and regular.  But this week, my kitchen is anything but regular.  It is special, indeed, and that redirection lets me delight in my grandmother’s pots and my kids’ favorite recipes.  I pay special attention to what I eat this week;  it’s not like a diet; it’s more like a week long statement.

I hope you’re paying attention to the week, making it special.  It is good to be discerning.



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