Kosher Deli Illustration

Parashat Re’e D'rash

Posted by Barbara G.
“See: This day I set before you blessing and curse”

With these words the torah begins Parashat Re’eh, a portion that surveys many of the mitzvot incumbent upon the Israelites as they entered the land of Israel and upon all Jews to this day. This Parsha sets the tone for the whole book of Deuteronomy. It opens with a reference to a covenant ceremony that is to take place as soon as the Israelites enter the Promised Land and closes with the assurance of the Divine blessing if they are obedient to God. In between it highlights what the covenant requires: the total rejection of pagan practices and customs, the establishment of a just and compassionate society, and the proper worship of God. Also included in this section of the Torah is a repeat of the prohibition against eating blood, reminding us that blood is sacred, carrying with it the life of each creature - things about which today we know much, yet have so little regard.

One portion of this reading relates to the special dietary rules which have become known as keeping kosher. These become important especially because as they enter a new land, they will come into contact with many local customs, foods and people. These rules for eating and for elevating the most basic human acts of nourishment help define not only the Israelites, but the Jewish people throughout all time even until today. The modern World has often thought the "laws of kosher" were based on hygiene. It was believed by some that kosher animals were healthier to eat than non-kosher animals. It was also noted that the laws of purity (Leviticus 11-15) not only describe the difference between clean and unclean animals, but also describe other phenomena related to health. Thus, it was natural for many to assume that all the laws of kashrut were merely hygienic in intent and origin. Not so.

The subject of keeping kosher has always peaked my interest. How do these law s of Kashrut relate to my life now, in the 21st century?

I came across a sermon given by Rabbi Feinstein called “FOR A FLAME -BROILED WORLD”

“Why does your God object to cheeseburgers?” a friend asked over lunch one day, “Why does He care?” A very good question. Why does a tradition so concerned with ultimate issues concern itself so earnestly with, of all things, cheeseburgers? First, please understand that it has nothing to do with health. The laws of Kashrut -- the food restrictions imposed upon Jews by the Bible and the Talmud -- were not intended to keep us healthy. Trust me, you can eat very Kosher but very unhealthy. Kashrut is a symbol system. The question is not: What does it do for me? but rather: What does it say to me?

“You are what you eat,” observed the philosopher Feuerbach. The way we confront nature and make a living in the world determines our values. And eating is the most direct way we confront nature. Because the way we eat speaks for the values we hold, Judaism impresses its most fundamental values into the daily act of preparing and eating food. All of Kashrut says: Choose Life.

The Bible envisioned man and woman in the Garden of Eden as vegetarians. The perfect world -- without conflict, violence, fear -- is a world of vegetarianism. It is a world of oneness with nature. When we hunger for animal products, especially meat, we break the oneness. This is where the laws of Kashrut apply. Kashrut is a compromise. Choosing to eat meat puts us at the end of a process of killing -- making us the end cause, the reason, for the entire process, and therefore, morally responsible. No matter how careful and clean, this is a matter of aggression and violence. We often forget this when meat appears in the supermarket, all sanitized and freezer-wrapped: This was once a living, breathing being, whose life we have taken by force. Kashrut is a compromise between the nonviolent ideal of vegetarianism and the human craving for meat. You may eat meat. But only with certain restrictions.

There are four basic laws of eating meat: (1) Only certain animals may be eaten, so that killing is not indiscriminate. (2) The animal is killed in the most painless way. (3) All blood must be removed because blood symbolizes life, and all life belongs to God. You may eat the animal, but you must not imagine yourself to be the master of life and death. (4) Foods made from milk and foods made from meat must be prepared, served and eaten separately. Because meat symbolizes the taking of life, and milk symbolizes the giving of life, and the two must never be confused in our lives. This week’s Torah portion teaches this ideal: “You are a people consecrated to the Lord your God. You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.” (Deuteronomy 14:21)

What’s wrong with a cheeseburger? It bespeaks a culture, no longer shocked by violence, one that casually mixes up life and death. We are surrounded by a culture that celebrates violence as a source of vigor and vitality, it entertains us on tv, and mixes violence into the fabric of daily life. This is a culture that sells weapons as toys. LAPD hould be as well armed as the neighborhood Toys-R-Us!

Freedom of choice has been granted to every man: if he desires to turn toward a good path and be righteous, the ability to do so is in his hands; and if he desires to turn toward an evil path and be wicked, the ability to do so is in his hands... This concept is a fundamental principle and a pillar of the Torah and its commandments.

So what will you change by refusing a cheeseburger? Will it make a difference? Maybe not in the world at large but certainly within you. You will be different. You will make a statement about your values and about the world you choose to live in. You will be a little more conscious, a little more sensitive, a little closer to oneness.

Shabbat Shalom.