Fires to Consume, Fires to Enlighten

Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Fires to Consume, Fires to Enlighten: Sh'mini

By Rabbi Arthur Waskow*

It reads, to modern eyes, like a cookbook. The Torah portion of Sh'mini begins (Lev 9: 1-4) by telling us to bring beef, mutton, and pancakes to the sacred altar at the transcendent moment of its dedication; it ends (Lev. 11) by making sure that on any ordinary day we do not eat whales, hawks, camels, or shrimp. For even in our ordinary lives, some foods are sacred.

And between these two celebrations of the sacredness of food, we witness the deaths of those who brought "strange fire" to the Holy One (Lev. 10: 1-3).

How did Biblical Jews get in touch with God? By eating and choosing what to eat. Not by murmuring prayer; when Hannah did that (I Samuel 1:13), the priest Eli thought she was drunk.

Why by eating? Because in the deepest origins of Jewish life, the most sacred relationship was the relationship with the earth. For shepherds, farmers, orchard-keepers, food was the nexus between adamah, the earth, and its closest relative

Torah Portions: