Thousands of years ago, Judaism recognized the essential significance of food in the Jewish and human experience. Originally, without explaining “why” we should eat some, but not all types of different foods, the Torah in this week’s portion, Sh’mini (Leviticus 11), laid down a lengthy list of culinary dos and don’ts, the textual foundation of kashrut, Jewish dietary practice and law. The Rabbis greatly expanded on this topic and today there are a variety of expressions of kashrut.
The double portion, Tazria/M'tzora, discusses the priests' treatment of various skin ailments. It demonstrates a positive relationship between Judaism and medicine that has developed throughout the centuries.
For the last few years, I have been a member of a local hospital’s ethics committee. The hospital is part of a university-based system and the committee’s chair is a scholarly pulmonologist with a propensity to pick cases involving life and death choices.
In Parashat Emor, the Torah reports that a man born of mixed Israelite-Egyptian descent “blasphemed the Name [of God],” was placed on trial, and was stoned to death. A law was then enacted that anyone, Jewish or gentile, who blasphemes the name of God shall be put to death. Over time, in communities throughout the world, laws against blasphemy were put in place to address curses leveled at God as well as perceived slights against some religions.
W.C. Fields said, "Never work with animals or children, [they steal the spotlight]." Though no one ever accused him of being a Torah scholar, his insight was certainly applicable to this week's Torah portion. Parashat Noach, the second portion in the Book of Genesis (and my bar mitzvah portion) is perhaps the most universally known and, at least by children, most adored portion in the entire Torah. This is in part, no doubt, because it has not one animal, but all animals — and they come in pairs! Later, God teaches us to value one another in the incident of the Tower of Babel.
In The Fires of Spring, the late prolific American author, James Michener, wrote: “For this is the journey that humans make: to find themselves. ... " In this week’s parashah, Lech L’cha, we read a similar imperative to find purpose in life, to listen to and live — as your true self.
In my experience as a living, breathing human being, regardless of gender, age, or orientation there is only one correct answer to the question, “Honey, does this outfit look OK?” The answer comes from the Torah in this week’s portion Vayeira, and is attributed to no greater authority than God: it is to say whatever is necessary to make the person in the outfit feel good about themselves and supported by you. Even if that means you have to lie, it is a mitzvah!
With this week’s Torah portion, we enter the final four (Torah portions, that is) of the Book of Genesis.