This week, in Parashah Shmini, we learn the laws of Kashrut. We often think of Kashrut as a hoq, a mysterious commandment that we follow only because our Torah says that God wants us to. But Kashrut is also a mishpat, a commandment informed by values and virtues that we can comprehend; in this case, an abhorrence of cruelty. Not only may we not eat, and thereby develop a thirst for, blood; we may not slaughter in a cruel way, because we care about tzar baalei chayim, the suffering of living creatures.
An acquaintance recently asked me about the difference between holiness and spirituality. In America, this person noted, everyone talks about spirituality but no one
discusses holiness. What is Judaism’s view, my friend wanted to know, about these two ideas?
Kedoshim is a lofty and powerful parsha, known as the holiness code, which the Talmud and Midrash understood to be rav gufei Torah, or encompassing the majority of the Torah, namely that this chapter is a summation of the entire Torah itself.
In the new "Body Worlds" exhibit at the California Science Center, a plastic man called "Chess Player" sits at a table with his back hunched forward and his hands cupped under his chin. His lips pursed, his eyes stare intensely at the chess board.
The Tu B'Shevat seder, with its many fruit and nuts, challenges us to reconsider our usual diets, and the recommended Jewish diet. While the FDA recommends a diet high in grains, rich in nutrients and low in saturated fats, Judaism recommends a diet high in holiness, rich in consciousness and connection, and low in selfishness. These four factors guide not only a Jewish diet, but also a Jewish life.
Enter a cathedral, and what do you feel? Thesoaring vaulted ceiling, the giant columns, the colossal statues ofsaints and martyrs, the luminous stained-glass images of scripturalheroes -- the architecture articulates a spirituality of contrast. Weare small, insignificant, ephemeral creatures, no better than insectson the floor. We are impure, corrupt, stained with sin. Who are we toapproach God? God is magnificent, distant and fearsome in judgment.In the cathedral, it is only the figure of Christ that mediatesbetween my miserable condition as human being and God's majesty.Holiness, argued the scholar Rudolf Otto, lies in the contrastbetween our "utter creatureliness" and God's frightening "tremendum."Holiness is the shiver of vulnerability in the face of theinfinite.