Judaism and Kashrut: Your Flavor-Savers
“All male descendants of Aaron
may eat of it, as an eternal law
for all your generations,
from Hashem’s fire offering.
All that touches them shall become holy.”
|| Kol zachar bivenei Aharon
| yochelenah chok olam
| me’ishei Hashem
| kol asheryiga bahem yikedash
As we come into the book of Leviticus we begin to read the description of the priestly service. It lays out for us the processes and procedure for going about the holy service of the sanctuary. Naturally the majority of the work is done by the priests in their various capacities. They are a consecrated people who perform the holy service unto G-d and therefore much attention is put into describing their actions and defining their conduct.
Among the things that priests did as part of their service was perform the various offerings. Many of these offerings were not just offered up to the fire, there were also portions of the various offerings that were eating by the priests. This is the case here with both sin and guilt offerings. A portion of the grain meal that was offered was to be taken and baked into unleavened bread and eaten by the priests.
What we see here is that all the food that touches the altar, that comes in contact with it’s holy fires becomes holy. Our Rabbis tell us that by coming in direct contact with the hot altar and the consuming fire of the elements upon it, the taste of that fire is transferred to the meal upon it. It begins to taste like the holy offerings and therefore should be treated holy, and eaten properly by the priests.
From this our rabbinic teachings derive the concept that anything that is cooked together transfers its essence, by means of it’s flavor. Think about it, we define something by its flavor. We eat something for the flavor probably more so than for the nutrients. This flavor being the essence of a food item, once it permeates and saturates another thing so that it transfers this taste, it become indistinguishable from that substance it’s seethed in. Thus the ruling of Judaic law is that if you cook kosher food with non-kosher food you render it unkosher as quickly as the taste is transferred. (see Pesachim 44b and 45a; and Zevachim 97a/b)
This is one of those points of Torah where the rabbis, parents and teachers point out saying “look, you need to watch what your mingling with because it’s gonna rub off on you!” When I was a kid I used to hear comments from adults about why we need to make friends among good company. I wasn’t always so fortunate to hear it put so nicely in my family, my often angry grandparents would spew something graphic to the tune of “if you hang out with crap your gonna end up smelling like it.” Frankly it used to piss me off. As true as the nature of social osmosis is, I didn’t find the words all that palatable. Besides there was too much wiggle room to debate the goodness of my wild buddies, or the justifiable nature of the situation I was in.
Of course we can argue our point like a teenager, our tradition even goes there. Philosophically our rabbis tried to deal with this issue when it came to applying this concept to kashrut, defining what was acceptable and appropriate. In Talmud Zevachim 97 the discussion is how can we say that mingling makes something inappropriate. Can’t we just as easily say that our mingling can transfers a good nature? This exactly what the scripture is saying after all, it touched something holy and became holy itself.
However, the scripture give us an example of how something “shall” become holy; meaning that it can become holy. This commandment is presented as a positive principal, it tells a step of how something can become consecrated. But it cannot overrule the facts that certain things are just nasty no matter how much contact you have with the pleasing. If it’s inappropriate by nature (think of the hooves, hide, etc. offered up in fire), heavy flavoring won’t make it any more consumable. All our positivity cannot rub out someone’s negativity.
Rashi, being the master of simplicity, in all his knowledge of our rabbinic tradition simply summarizes this principal when comments on this verse saying:
“However it is, that’s how it’s going to be. |
If it’s inappropriate, it shall be inappropriate. |
But if it’s acceptable (kosher) |
eat this thing like it’s a tribute.” |
שאם פסולה יפסלו
יאכלו כחומר המנחה
Rashi (free translation)
If we got back to basics about kashrut – meaning kosher eating – we would see that some mitzvot pertaining to it have nothing to do with what is forbidden, but instead bring us to realizing we are a consecrated people. Our tables become like the altar itself, we take every day elements that are not special and by setting them aside for good use they become something special. So everything we eat, we eat it in a way that elevates our experience from just mere consumption to an observance of the specialness of our experience in life.
In our kashrut we copy in a symbolic way what was done in the literal sense everyday in the Mishkan– the holy tabernacle. The priests would take a small amount of the grain meal of the offering to make their own bread out of. Because of where it was taken from it tasted like the offering so it was treated just as sacred as the offering itself; be they sin offerings for the intentional, or guilt offerings for the unknown. So they ate it in a sacred place, during the allotted period of time the mincha offering was still being burned on the altar.
Now thinking about all of this, if I was to try to use this example from our tradition to try to teach lesson about social consequences I would do like the sages do. I’d be honest about it, and say it really has nothing to do with becoming “tainted” as much as protecting the distinct flavor of one’s essence. Id explain how you come from a special place, seasoned with the intentions and troubles of those who came before you that have made you unique. But it’s a good thing, such a good thing that you should be more respectful of your special character because it is something that is precious. And if you treat that special character in you as something precious, it can be just as holy as the very offering of the holy sanctuary itself.
So…. take that grandma and grandpa hahahahaha