I have a finicky relationship with food. It’s not that I don’t like food; on the contrary, I LOVE food. I’m the type of flavor seeker who adds spice and weird combinations of sauces (some might call it fusion) to every meal. Trust me, I wasn’t always this way. When I was a child, my parents thought they were raising the world’s pickiest eater. How could they have known back then that my own children would make my younger self look like a dream eater?
As a parent of picky eaters, we’ve had so many conversations about what foods are healthy, what fuels our bodies, and why trying new foods can be fun. And, as a kosher-keeping family, we also have the conversations about why we can’t have a quesadilla if we’re still hungry after we have hot dogs for dinner. Ultimately, it comes down to finding the balance between eating both for pleasure and for fuel.
Our Torah portion this week, Parshat Shemini, digs in to this conversation in a way that allows us to elevate our food choices. The parshah begins with the words “On the eighth day” after the priests have been installed. The text picks up with the narrative of creating a holy leadership team of Aaron and his sons, who unfortunately make an offering without the appropriate directions or intentions and end up losing their lives. Following this tragic story are the laws for making time holy with sacrifices and laws for making our bodies holy by following the laws of kashrut.
At the heart of this portion are the laws about which animals are kosher and which are not, how we’re supposed to treat the animals, and the reasons why. It boils down (no pun intended) to some general rules. Animals that cause harm to others are not kosher. Animals that are “unclean” or don’t clean themselves are not kosher. Animals that torment or stalk others are not kosher. The Torah gives us these categories because our insides should support our outsides. In other words, we are a people that lifts up bodily care and cleanliness, and we discourage waste and excess.
These laws are inconvenient in our modern world and often challenging, and yet they fill mealtime with intention and presence instead of gluttony and indulgence. Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally willing to indulge on occasion, but I do so with the full intent of understanding that nourishing my body is a mitzvah. And of course I try not to overdo it.