Parshat Shemini 5771: Kosher, Treif and Gauging the Sincerity of the Kehal’s Service

by Moshe Burt

After learning in Parsha Tzav that for seven days, Moshe taught Aaron HaKohen and his sons the laws of their Avodah (the Kohanic Service, i.e. in the Tabernacle and later in the Beit HaMikdash — ” The Temple”) in the Mishkan, our Parsha Shemini begins by relating that on the eighth day, Aaron and his sons commenced their Avodah HaKodosh (Holy Service). And it is interesting and ironic that our parsha is the other side of the term; “Tzav-Shemonah” which is the document or order issued by the Israel Defense Forces calling reservists to active duty in event of war.

But our Parsha also relates the tragedy of the deaths of Aaron’s two oldest sons, Nadav and Avihu who died while performing an unauthorized Service, offering a “strange fire …, which he did not command them…” (Artscroll Chumash, Vayikra, Perek 10, posuk 1)

And our Parsha relates that:

“Hashem spoke to Aaron saying: Do not drink intoxicating wine, you and your sons …, when you come to the Ohel Mo’ed (the Tent of Meeting), that you not die — this is an eternal decree for your generations. In order to distinguish between the sacred and the profane …” (Artscroll Chumash, Vayikra, Perek 10, p’sukim 8-10).

We see that Nadav and Avihu were so wrapped up in the joy and euphoria of the moment that they chose to serve Hashem in a unique way, untaught by Moshe during the previous training. And they chose to offer their fire without asking Moshe for his ruling. The Imrei Shefer quotes R’ Eliezer as saying:

“Aaron’s sons died because they gave rulings in the halacha in front of Moshe, their teacher” (rather than asking him for p’sak Halacha). (Torah Gems, Aharon Yaakov Greenberg, page 267)

And while we note that Nadav and Avihu sought to perform a unique service, thought by them to be pleasing to Hashem, many others through our history have sought to alter, to change their service, more often than not, in ways and for reasons not L’Sheim Shemayim (not honoring Hashem’s name) and perhaps, eventually rendering whatever service they did unrecognizable in Shemayim.

Throughout our history, there have been, and continue to be in our days, those who sought/seek to “cut corners” in their Avodah in an effort to achieve a perception of being “like the nations.” Many among our Jewish brethren would deny Hashem’s control of the world in seeking to tailor Torah and their Jewishness to fit the ways of the nations thinking that this was the path to gaining their love, admiration or respect.

The perception that assimilation of the Jews would lead to acceptance by the nations grew in the minds of many to override accepting Hashem’s reishut (command) over the world. They perceive that if only they didn’t look and act sooo Jewish, that then they’ll be loved by the gentiles. And, if they are loved and held of by the gentiles, they reason that then they would be able to live forever in peace, never to be harrassed, belittled or persecuted for their Jewishness — what little, if any, would be left. If their eyes would only be wide open so as to see how abysmally wrong they’ve been; again, again and in the US again — most recently having voted in droves for a President with an Islamic-sounding name who, it becomes more and more increasingly obviously clear, is intent on Israel’s demise.

There are other dimensions to “unique service” and “cutting corners.” There are others among us who, while seeming to be and wearing the outward trappings of frumkeit, are wanting on the inside. And it seems that during Purim or Shushan Purim, the inner realities of some are laid bare for others to see.

A few cases in point; a Shushan Purim foray into Jerusalem a couple of years ago; the unlocked door of a private, moving mini-van flung open by a young enibriated bocher who, in his distorted, drunken state, thought that he was “having a good time”, obviously at the expense of the those in the vehicle who could have been endangered by the act. This and other similar type acts witnessed by this author, and not only on Shushan Purim, make travelling to Holy Yerushalayim on a chag (festival day like Shushan Purim) or on Chol Hamoed (intermediate holiday, i.e. Chol HaMoed Passover or Succot) a dreaded drudgery rather than the eagerly awaited and anticipated Shalosh Regalim (the three Halachically-mandated trips to Jerusalem for Passover, Shavuot, Succot).

Another such case was a visit to an old chaverusa a few years ago on Shushan Purim. The Chaverusa is a great guy and a huge top-wrung Talmud Chacham (a high-level student of Torah) — we were Chaverusas at Philly Yeshiva’s weekly Mishmar night back in the “old country” before he married and came to Israel. He and his wife are true Ba’alei Chassadim (great doers of kindnesses for their fellow Jews). He and his family act at all times in keeping with the above description. Even on Shushan Purim, when we lose the ability to distinguish Haman from Mordechai, my friend’s Seudah table is leibidik in the true tradition of Purim. But outside, in public, he always acts toward others with the utmost in menschlicheit.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for a lot of those who live in their vicinity. In previous Shushan Purim visits, this author was accosted with disparaging words about our brethren who live in Yehuda and the Shomron because of my wearing a Gush Katif cap or when an enibriated individual walked through my friend and former chaverusa’s open door, cigarette in mouth, despite his wife’s denial of permission to enter, parking himself in a chair next to where this author was trying to say over a Purim vort, and demanding of my friends’ hundreds of dollars because he needs dental work done. And when this author attempted to give mussar about his chutzpah in entering someone else’s home waving his lit cigarette around, his answer; “I can’t help it, I’m shickar.”

Are such individuals as listed above just as guilty of cutting corners in their Avodah as those who cut corners to be like the nations? How can “religious” men of outward appearance, lack public menschlicheit toward their brethren under guise of “being drunk and unable to tell Haman from
Mordechai”, just as guilty of cutting corners in their Avodah as those who cut corners to be like the nations?

There is one more point to be made here. Our parsha teaches us about Kosher and treif (non-Kosher) animals — that only meat from kosher animals with split hooves and who chew their cud are halachically (according to the laws of Torah) permitted to be eaten by the Jewish people. And this author vividly remembers Rabbanim who would explain that when the chazeir (swine) would lay-down, its split hooves would face outwards, as if saying to all, “see, I’m kosher!”

And finally, this author refers back to our previous Parsha Tzav, and to a point repeated numerous times on this blog, which could be referred to as “cutting corners,” on Hashem’s time — a mumble-jumbled repetition of Shemonah Esrei by a Sh’liach Tzibbur. In the Parsha HaShevua for Tzav, this author noted:

No less than Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Reichman of Yeshiva University discussed the need for Teshuvah regarding tefillot in a video shiur just before this past Yom Kippur.

In that video, R’ Reichman spoke about his feelings regarding his own personal tefillot as well as indicating a necessity for Sh’lichim Tzibburim to do teshuva in perfecting their davening in Chazarat HaShatz (repetition of Shemonah Essrei). To this author’s recollection, R’ Reichman is THE FIRST prominent Rabbi to have addressed issues relating to the Shaliach Tzibbur “System.”

Presumably the same holds true for the 1 minute Aleinu. It seems apparent to this author that the litmus test of true sincerity of observance begins with the effort put into proper tefillah, not just by each individual of the minyan, but as at least of equal importance, by the Sh’liach Tzibbur — the one reciting the repetition of Shemonah Esrei.

There are those who learn that by time of the Moshiach, of the Ge’ula Shlaima (the Ultimate Redemption), there will be an era when the chazeir, too, will do Teshuva, and that the animal will evolve into chewing its cud as well as already having split hooves — thus becoming kosher. But meanwhile, this chutzpah of the chazeir; sitting or laying down with split hooves out for all to see as if proclaiming himself “kosher”, could be said to have its parallel lesson regarding the midos, derech, tefillot and actions of some who wear the clothes and who talk the talk, but who seem not to walk the walk of true observance.

May we, the B’nai Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them at leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized gunpoint, that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard, captive Gilad Shalit and the other MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the courage to prevent the eviction of Jews from their homes and to prevent the handing of Jewish land over to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima — the Ultimate Redemption bim hay v’yameinu — speedily, in our time”, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim” — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.