Our world is material, as Madonna wisely observed, and as such it is hard to shy away from material goods. Our everyday lives are, for better or worse, often shaped and defined by our things. From the clothes we wear to the toys we buy, from the cars we drive to the foods we eat, we are all consumers. And the push for us to embrace our consumer culture is overwhelming. Commercials on TV urge us to purchase this or vote for that, and it’s hard to draw the line between fact and fiction when making a decision. Sometimes it seems like our daily lives are so incredibly wrapped up in consumerism and technology that we can get lost and forget what really matters most.
At first glance, it appears our Torah portion this week, parshat Shemini, is preaching the exact opposite of the material lifestyle. In its verses about sacrifices and the laws of kashrut, this section of Vayikra (Leviticus) is instructing us in the ways of a holy life, a godly life. But are a material life and a godly life mutually exclusive?
Let’s recap the parshah and find out. The book of Leviticus is focused mainly on the laws of sacrifice and the priests. The parshah begins with the words “On the eighth day” after the priests had been installed. The text picks up with the narrative of creating a holy leadership team of Aaron and his sons, who unfortunately make an offering without the appropriate directions or intentions and end up losing their lives. Following this tragic story are the laws for making time holy with sacrifices and laws for making our bodies holy by observing kashrut.
Towards the beginning of our text this week, we read about what it is to perform sacrifices and become closer to God. In chapter 9, verse 6 we read, “This is what the Lord has commanded that you do, that the presence of the Lord may appear to you.” But this line refers not only to the laws of sacrifices, but to our actions in general. Our actions, ritual and otherwise, are all meant to bring a God-like existence closer to us. All of our activities in the synagogue – prayer, classes, meetings, a family program, a meal, or even a stroll through the gift shop – should have the goal of feeling the divine presence. When in a Jewish context, the material things we do can contribute to the holy life we lead.
This is truly living in a godly world. It doesn’t mean abandoning our possessions, but it might require forgoing our obsessions. When we mingle our special holy selves with our everyday material selves, that’s when we bring God’s presence closer.
[photo credit: Madonna blowing me a kiss in front row 16th Aug 2006 via photopin (license)]