Thursday, March 10, 2011
By Susan Esther Barnes
An imaginary conversation with God:
Interviewer: Baruch ata Adonai, blessed are you Adonai our God, ruler of the world, who has agreed to speak with me today about the end of the book of Sh’mot (Exodus) in the Torah.
God: Thank you for asking me to be here today. Of course, I would have been here today anyway, since I am everywhere all the time. Still, I’m making a special effort to be heard right now because you have a question for me that really needs to be answered.
I: Thank you. It means a lot to me, as well as my readers. As you know, we have just finished reading the book of Sh’mot. A question that often comes up around this time is why, at the end of this book, are there these chapters with so many repetitive, detailed instructions about the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle)?
I: Bless you.
G: I didn’t sneeze. I said “Kashrut.”
I. I don’t understand. What does kashrut, the dietary laws, have to do with the building of the Mishkan?
G. I created the world and all that is in it, including human beings. Humans, some more than others, have a tendency at times to be a bit obsessive compulsive. So when I wrote the rules for building the Mishkan, I indulged those who want to engage in that behavior. I said what colors of yarn to use, and what kinds of metals, gems, hides, and wood. How many cubits long this should be and how many cubits wide that should be. Where each thing should be placed, how many of each thing there should be, etc. You get the picture.
G. Does all that obsessive compulsive detail remind you of anything?
I. It reminds me a lot of the halacha (Jewish law) about kashrut. All those rules about separate dishes and ovens, and trying to figure out how much rennet is in the cheese, which heckshers it’s okay to rely on, etc.
G: Exactly. That’s the problem.
I. What’s the problem?
G. I know people can get obsessive in general, and that they often get obsessive about food in particular. That’s partly why I wrote Devarim (Deuteronomy) 4:2 and 12:32.
I. “You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of Adonai your God which I commanded you,” and “Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it.”
G. Right. So the point of all the detail about the Mishkan is to show everyone, “You want details? I can write details. Here they are. All the details you will ever need, and more.” And when I write, “Don’t boil a kid in its mother’s milk,” do you know what that means?
I. The rabbis tell us it means don’t serve any dairy products with any animal, including (probably) birds, and –
G. No. It means “Don’t boil a kid in its mother’s milk.” I never wrote anything about separate dishes, or birds with cheese, or any of those other details people have added over the years. I don’t know how I could have been any more clear about it. I showed you that I didn’t want a bunch of extra details read into to the laws of kashrut by demonstrating that when I want you to follow a lot of specific details, I will say so, like I did in Sh’mot when I wrote about building the Mishkan. If that weren’t enough, I followed it up by explicitly telling you not to add to my laws.
I. So all those laws about kashrut…
G. The laws about kashrut are in the Torah. The way I wrote them. All the rest is just commentary, written by you loveable, fallible people. Now go study.