The end of Parshas Shemini deals with the laws regarding what types of land animals, fish, and birds are permitted to eat and which types are not permitted to eat. It also discusses the “creepy-crawlies” (insects, worms, bugs, etc) which, as a general rule, are not permitted to be eaten. The Torah tells we are supposed to be holy because He is holy and He took us out of Egypt. When we read the text it seems that G-d is telling us that we have to follow his commandments regarding what we can and cannot eat because He took us out of Egypt; interestingly enough, this is also the reason why we have to keep the Ten Commandments, why we have to eat Matzah, bring the Korban Pesach-the list goes on and on. It is almost as if the Torah is describing G-d as the friend who harps on the one favor he did for you twenty years ago each time he wants you to do something. Is that really the picture of G-d we are supposed to have? Additionally, why is the commandment to be holy mentioned in both verses…wouldn’t saying it once be enough?
In order to answer these questions, it is important to examine Human behavior. Our Rabbis of Blessed Memory teach that there are actually two ‘ways’ in which we can serve G-d… “Yirah” (awe/fear) and “Ahavah” (Love). A person who serves G-d with “Yirah” does the commandments for an ulterior motive. They follow the rules set by the Torah because he/she has to- they are afraid of punishment or they want G-d to reward them. A person serves G-d with “Ahavah” follows the commandments because he/she wants to- for no reason other than G-d said to follow the commandments; there is no ulterior motive beneath the surface. Though serving G-d with Ahavah is a higher level of service, even someone who serves G-d with Yirah is “credited” for following the commandments. The verses above speak to both of these types of people. For those who are on the level of Ahavah, the commandment to be holy is enough…G-d commanded it, so they will do it. However, G-d also enables those who are on the level of Yirah to gain merit. He knows they need an extra ‘push’, so he provides it; says G-d: “I am the one who took you out of the land of Egypt. Therefore, you are beholden to Me and must keep My commandments.”
All too often, people shun others for the way they practice Judaism. They exclude people who are not (in their small minds) religious enough or accuse people who are religious of ‘putting on a show’. These verses teach that G-d wants everyone to follow His commandments and will reach out to each person on his/her level of observance. Rather than put everyone into the same mold, perhaps we would be better off if we accepted that, though our methods may vary, we are are Adam Avdei Hashem- humans who serve G-d.
“For I am the L-rd your G-d; sanctify yourselves therefore, and you are to be holy for I am holy-and you shall not defile yourselves with any type of swarming thing which creeps upon the earth. For I am L-rd that brought you out of the land of Egypt to be a G-d for you; therefore, be holy, for I am holy.” (Lev. 11:44-11:45)
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