April 20-21, 2012 / 29 Nissan 5772
This week’s Torah portion is Shemini – or is it?
In Israel, they actually are already on the next portion. The reason for this is that outside of Israel, in traditional communities, the Passover holiday lasts for 8 days, while in Israel it only lasts for 7 days. The 8th day of Passover this year was last Saturday – so while in Israel it was a normal Shabbat and Israelis read the portion of Shemini, outside of Israel it was still Passover, and a special Passover Torah reading was read instead. A few weeks from now, we'll catch up by reading two portions, while those in Israel will read just one, allowing us to once again have our readings in synch.
I struggle a lot with the idea that not all Jews around the world are reading the same Torah portion at the same time. I personally find great meaning in knowing that when I’m partaking in a certain ritual (say, for example, something as simple as attending a Shabbat dinner with friends) there are Jewish people all around the world who are doing the same thing I am, at the same time (allotting for time differences of course). You would think that when it comes to the public reading of the Torah, the ancient rabbis would have been super concerned about having all Jews being on the same page (literally).
The portion of Shemini is the third portion in the book of Leviticus (the third of the five books of Moses), which is often referred to as the “priestly code,” and which spends a significant amount of time focusing on “sanctification.” In Leviticus, we learn that speech carries significant power, stressing the need for us to sanctify what goes forth from our mouths. So too, in Shemini in particular, we learn the value of sanctifying what goes into our mouths in the form of the primary kosher laws (in case you didn’t know, we learn in Shemini that pigs are not kosher… sorry to disappoint!).
It is this idea of “sanctification” – of making otherwise ordinary endeavors into holy actions, which can help us cope with any feelings we might have of being out of synch in our lives. While this week for me it’s a literal being out of synch, as the Torah portion we read outside of Israel differs from the one being read in Israel, so too can we be out of synch, for example, when we’ve failed to celebrate a Jewish holiday in a way that’s meaningful to us, when we stray from our inherited morals or values, and/or when we lose sight of the bigger picture.
The way to combat such feelings is by finding opportunities to make holy (if you prefer, to make “special”) those things that might otherwise be ordinary.
The next time you sit down to a meal, rather than diving right in, take a moment to reflect on the food in front of you and how blessed you are to be able to eat in a world where many go hungry. In doing so, you’re elevating the meal, making the meal special.
If you’re struggling to find the time to read a book you’ve been dying to have a chance to curl up with, pull out your calendar and set aside a certain amount of time each week, on a particular day of the week (might I recommend Saturday?), that you designate as “reading time.” In doing so, you’re distinguishing between the rest of the week and a time especially dedicated to your personal relaxation and joy.
There is undoubtedly something to be said for all of the world’s Jews being in synch and on the same page. I would argue however that the ancient rabbis (who understood the implications of establishing certain holidays as 8 days outside of Israel) knew that literally being on the same page is nowhere near as important as all Jews being in synch with regard to striving to add holiness to our lives by increasing the number of elevated moments we experience, both individually and within community.
Looking ahead, try to consciously set aside a few moments each week that you believe have the potential to be elevated from the ordinary into something meaningful and holy. And then, live those moments, knowing that you are without question in synch with Jews everywhere.