The Torah portion, or parasha, this week is called Shemini and is found in Leviticus 9:1-11:47. In this parasha, God tells Moses and Aaron to instruct the people about the animals they are permitted to eat. Land animals must have cloven hooves and chew their cud. Animals that have only one of these signs and therefore are not permitted are listed. Sea creatures must have fins and scales. No signs are given for birds; forbidden species are listed. Permitted insects are listed; all the rest are forbidden.
The passage focuses on a list of animals that may or may not be eaten. These guidelines provide support for our practices of kashrut today. Whether we follow these rules literally or symbolically, the selection of what we eat is still important. How balanced is our diet? Are we promoting life and health? Are we respecting ourselves? If we were with Moses in the desert today, what kinds of dietary guidelines might be included? Would they involve trans-fats, cholesterol, and refined foods? In addition to selecting foods that promote our health and well-being, the passage also challenges us to think of our treatment of living things. How are the animals we eat treated? Is it in a way that respects life? How do we treat the soil and land we get our food from? Is it in a way that preserves the earth or weakens it? This week, may we remember that even the little things we do each day can impact our lives and the lives of those around us.