Heaven Meets Earth
Acharei Mot-Kedoshim (Leviticus 16-20 )
This week's parsha declares that it's through keeping the statutes and ordinances of the Torah that a person comes "To live" (Leviticus 18:5). My thoughts below are based on Rashi's commentary to this verse.
I recently counseled a couple who were having marital issues. He wanted to keep kosher, and she didn't.
After she told me how arbitrary she thought kashrut was, I explained that even if there were no "spiritual" reasons to keeping kosher, it would still be worth it in order to have Shalom Bayis (peace in the house).
Needless to say, since keeping kosher often involves arguments over dishes, cakes, meals, and food in general, she was more than a little taken aback.
Let me first point out, I do believe there are deep spiritual reasons for kashrut, but to understand those reasons, we first have to understand what "spiritual" really means.
My Rabbi, Rav Noach Weinberg of blessed memory, would point out that people who come to Israel for the first time are often disappointed. I must confess that my first experience in Israel could have been described like this. "I just thought it would be more spiritual."
"So," Rabbi Weinberg used to say, "While you were here, did you see any Bafoofsticks?"
Obviously, we had no idea what a Bafoofstick is, and you can't know if you saw one unless you know what it is. The same is true with spirituality. People often expect that they are going to see something like multi-colored angels directing the plane down on its approach to Tel Aviv airport.
In an effort to explain what spirituality is, I present to you Spirituality 101:
"In the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth." (Genesis 1:1)
This sentence, as simple as it seems, makes a very important point. Whatever Heaven is, it's not Earth. Earth is everything we have seen, touched and felt. Everything we have read in books or seen on T.V. Whatever you know of Earth (meaning, just about everything), Heaven is not.
Heaven is something completely different. It's not more Earth, it's not more physical stuff, it's not more of anything you have experienced here. It's something completely different.
With that, Rashi (Genesis 1:1 & 8) explains what the Heavens were made out of - a combination of fire and water.
Now that's a very odd mix. In fact, it doesn't really mix at all - they are physical opposites.
Since fire is the antithesis of water, when the two meet the reaction is invariably violent. Similarly, when spirituality meets physicality, the reaction is always disturbing.
This might sound strange since there is a general perception that a spiritual experience is synonymous with peace and tranquility. This is simply wrong!
That doesn't mean violence is spiritual. It just means that the process of introducing spirituality into our physical world creates intense pressure. When mixing heaven and earth, fire and water, or spirituality and physicality, there is an inevitable disruption of equilibrium.
Let me explain. At its essence, Earth is not meaningful. In the extreme, dirt is dirt. In and of itself, the dirt is of no value - its only value is in what you do with it.
Heaven is the opposite. It's the ultimate in value and purpose.
Infusing meaning into this physical world (Earth) is not an easy task. It's a challenging process of unraveling mistaken thinking, challenging dysfunctional behavior and realizing pointless goals. All of these things rarely happen without strong outside pressure. In other words, it's not easy or comfortable ... but it is definitely worth the effort.
And so we come back to our issue, how does keeping a kosher home create peace in that home?
Most people who keep kosher will tell you that the process and sometimes even the upkeep of a kosher home is one of the most contentious and difficult issues between husbands and wives.
They think they would be more happily married if both spouses kept the same thing, either kosher or not. I have heard it said many times, "We used to be happily married till he/she started to keep kosher."
Let's examine those words. The husband, who we will call Jim, is now keeping kosher. For Jim, kashrut somehow fulfills a need, which was obviously going unmet. Jim, although he seemed happy, was not as cheery as people might have thought.
Including Barbara, his wife.
Why didn't she see that Jim was missing something? Because they were not as happily married as both of them thought.
But let's take this a little further. Jim starts to keep kosher and Barbara starts to get upset with all these new rules - not that unusual. Jim (as is often the case) can't seem to explain to her how and why kashrut is important.
Why not? Up until then they seemed to be able to discuss most things amicably and to a good solution, but not kashrut. Why?
Their communication was great when they both agreed about everything. But now it's being tested. And their listening and communications skills are not as good as they thought they were. If they are going to resolve this, they are going to have to upgrade to a higher level of relating.
Are you starting to see how kashrut is forcing them to have a better relationship? Okay, let's take it even deeper.
Barbara is starting to get very defensive. She remembers her own father who would come home and order her around and she vowed she would never be treated that way again. So when Jim even hints at another "rule" she flies off the handle. Jim is not going to get anywhere with Barbara until he understands her inner struggles.
Why didn't both Jim and Barbara know about this latent issue? Because it was latent.
Kashrut brought it out, and now gives them the opportunity to create an even deeper relationship. Do you see how kashrut is forcing them to open up on a level they never would have before?
In fact, when you look at it, it's not kashrut at all that they are fighting about - it's really their lack of harmony that had allowed unresolved issues to become a source of strife in their marriage.
That's how kashrut creates peace in the home, shalom bayit - by opening up the lines of communication to resolve those issues.
Therefore, the process of building a Jewish home, with whatever level of kashrut they will both agree on, albeit contentious (as in fire and water) is a process of understanding each other, learning from each other, and getting closer to each other.
In other words, creating a more spiritual home is at first fiery, but that's how you make peace.
This is living.