So yesterday I meant to write about Kosher, as in keeping it. It seems to be a misunderstood concept across the boards.
Do I keep kosher? Sort of. I'm not an expert in Halachot, but I understand the value in meaningful choice. I keep what is best describes as "American Kosher." We are vegetarians, so our kitchen is dairy, although we just got a cat, so he'll need his own dishes... but outside the home we run a mental exercise every time we eat. Is it somewhere our rabbi has supervised, does it have a hechsher (the little icon of rabbinic supervision,) can we discern from the ingredients if there is anything unacceptable in the product... and so on and so forth with package goods. If we're eating out, does the place have vegan dishes, vegetarian options, can it be made to order? And I don't think we're unique in this exercise at all. American Jews overwhelmingly don't keep kosher, but by who's standard?
I even saw a thread on Twitter this past week suggesting that we have to have a category for american Jews:
as their own cultural/ethnic category for people who for what ever reason don't identify with traditional categories like Ashkenazi/Mizrachi/Sefardi ect.. 'American Jews' meaning minhag Americani. Patrilineal decent. Modern Hebrew pronunciation. Eclectic practice hierarchies....OTD, yeah, probably, but who's to say our path is not just as meaningful and spiritual so long as it's a chosen path and we're not just wandering in the wilderness of epicurean delight?
I have found that the idea that someone could or even should attempt to go from zero to all 613 mitzvot like a dragster in the quarter-mile self destructive. Does it make someone less Jewish for not fulfilling or even trying to fulfill all the mitzvot? Not even slightly, there are some that you can't do, even if you were some kind of supermensch. The Temple is gone, some were linked to that practice of thousands of years ago.
I think concepts such as kashrut or the mitzvot were meant to be firstly helpers towards you're ability to focus on meaning in life, and secondly, additive. So you have decided you want to try for a more meaningful, spiritual Jewish life. Mazel tov! What mitzvot are you drawn to, that you can do? Start there. Maybe you get up in the morning and you go to the sink and you wash your hands, and you say Netilat Yadayim, there at the sink. That's just one thing, there's loads, maybe ritual isn't for you. Maybe you keep up and speak out on ecology? Did you know eco-kashrut is a thing? It's not just what the stuff was made from, but how it was made, and how the folks who made it were treated, and what impact it might have on the earth.
There isn't any trick here, and it's not always going to be a great and awe inspiring moment. What you're doing is training yourself to be aware by noticing the world around you and making a distinct and thoughtful choice about it, and why you made that choice. That way when the moment is ready, you will be too.
Reb Zalman said that he wanted Renewal to be like a creature with a backbone, not like an insect or a crab with a shell. That as a movement it ought to encourage people to have a solid support structure internally, not just a show of it externally. These Jewish decisions you might make, such as keeping kosher, will build the internal strength to know who you are and support you as you go along in a world that isn't Jewish. These mitzvot will allow you to see how being conscious of one thing can lead to another and you will sharpen yourself to the potential of the wonder in the world rather than just building armor against it.
The other seat squirmier this week was on attitudes during worship. Maybe you've noticed, sometimes it's not a really joyous event on a Friday evening or Saturday morning? Along with thoughts on the animals we could and could not eat this week, I looked at the haftarah. It's a tale of David removing the ark to the new capital city of the kingdom. Much like the parshah before it, a young man gets killed for what seems an innocent transgression.
The cart the ark is on has some trouble and to keep the ark from falling he reaches out and touches the casement of the ark with his bare hand. The story reads that this is what got him killed, and again the commentary speaks to the care and exactness one must exhibit when working with god, and or god's stuff. They said that his touch was too familiar, which I read as being like the edict against touching the personage of royalty by the commoners. Others said it was just physics, as the cart upset, he was crushed under the mass of the sliding ark. With Nadab and Abihu, Aaron's kids, commentary reads that it's an example of god not playing favorites. To be well-born or lets say elected even to a high office means your actions need to be even more strictly controlled. Yet in the haftarah David is whooping it up as he comes a riding into town with the ark. Dancing and carrying on before the ark in celebration with the people as it's brought to its new resting place.
When he gets home later he's met by Michal daughter of Saul, his wife... who seeing him from her window leaping and dancing before the ark, "despised him in her heart." She scolds him when he gets home, apparently embarrassed by his behavior in front of the servants, and folk. He reminds her who's king, who made him king, and goes on to say he'll be joyful as it suits him and even with the handmaidens! The next line reads, "And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child unto the day of her death."
I don't think god cursed her to be childless. I think she cursed herself. The story of David is a great tale about a man, who embodies all the flaws of men. Still, David gets away with a certain amount of familiarity with the common people before the Lord when Uzzah was killed for trying to protect the very vessel of the holy from defilement.
It's always a struggle it seems knowing where formality and familiarity meet and what we are entitled to and when we're overstepping to our detriment. I've seen enough Saturday's where the Torah is stoically lifted and carried about the shul, presented before the stone faced or even the anxious.
The holy scroll is in the hands of some guy, what it he were to trip, what if she were to stumble!They shuffle to within an arms reach, but dare not get closer. Not daring to melt into dancing Davids, ahead of the written word, overcome with the joy of the moment. Like the childless Michal, who can't warm up to her husband, let alone her people, or maybe even god, and in her own isolation misses the moment.
We must rekindle the joy in what we do, in that will the next generation come.