Shimini - Eating as a Spiritual Practice

by Ellen Triebwasser

Rabbi Jonathan (Kligler) has spoken about why we call what we do in religion a “spiritual practice.”

We practice any skill we want to develop, improve or maintain, things like:

An instrument

A sport

An art

Our profession

Our schoolwork

Think about something you’ve either been doing for a long time or something you’ve recently started to learn, and how much better you are at doing it than you were when you started.

You’re better because of practice, doing it even when you didn’t feel like it, because you knew you would learn something, accomplish something, feel something when you were done.

Spiritual practice can be like that—you don’t feel like getting up and dressed and driving all the way here—but you come and something wonderful happens at services.

Today we’re going to talk about turning something ordinary, everyday and essential into a spiritual practice, and that’s eating.

You already know that the Torah instructs us to eat, be satisfied and bless the One who provides the food.

The Torah we just read talks about animals we can eat and those we can’t, any many volumes have been written about why and how to do it…the laws of Kashrut, keeping kosher.

The only reason given in the Torah is? be holy like G!d.

What does that mean to us today? (There are lots of questions to be raised and discussions to follow, with many answers and probably we’ll all come up with different answers that are right for us).

We’re all b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of G!d and strive to make choices in life that make us holy.

When we consider what we will eat we know certain things about food production (since most of us are NOT farmers):

--we know what they do to calves to turn the meat into veal

--we know about factory farms, where chickens “live” crammed into cages, their beaks clipped so they can’t peck each other

--we know about cattle, given manufactured feed instead of grass—and antibiotics to keep them from getting sick on the unnatural food we give them to make their meat more pleasing—but the antibiotics can harm us

Just because human beings can do things like that to animals

Is it right?

Is it moral?
Should we participate by consuming it?

The term eco-kashrut refers to broadening traditional laws of “keeping kosher” to address questions of morality in consuming food and other products.

Here come the questions:

--If it’s immoral to treat animals like that, what should I do about it?

Should I only eat free range animals, or save meat for special occasions, or stop eating meat altogether?

Should I only eat organic produce and buy from local farmers when I can?

I am the image of G!d—shall I eat anything that’s attractive to me—or decide that for my health I will choose a balanced, healthy selection of foods out of respect for something bigger than myself, to work toward being holy?

(It was much easier to pass by the bowl of popcorn in my office during Passover when I had a religious reason for not eating it than it is during the rest of the year when I just think “I probably shouldn’t have that.”)

What about consciously consuming other products?

My teacher Rabbi Rami Shapiro was rabbi of a congregation in Miami for twenty years and the congregation had conversations about this kind of issue, and they decided that, for them, Nike products weren’t kosher because of the factories where they were produced and the advertising that enticed young people to spend a lot of money to be in style when they might have used the money for more necessary things.

How can I spend my money wisely? Should I always choose the cheapest product or spend a little more for something that pollutes less or that’s handmade or that’s made by a company that has a good record for the way it treats its employees?

We live in a very socially-conscious community and many people have already considered these questions.

If you haven’t, I hope you do.

Our people’s name Yisrael means “wrestler with G!d.”

Whether questions about eco-kashrut are things you’re already wrestling with or whether you’re just beginning to do so, I’d like to leave you with the thought that these are very Jewish questions, born of the ideal of making our selves holy, in the image of G!d.