Harried Pottery: Shemini 2016

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Leadoff Questions: When we cope with brokenness in our lives, is it best to throw everything aside and to start over? Or are we better off picking up some of the pieces of our previous experiences and trying to build something new with them?

These are metaphorical questions to ask about a very literal section of this week’s Torah portion, which deals at one point with vessels that come into contact with animals God has deemed impure.

The Pitch: “And if any of [impure animals] falls into an earthen vessel, everything inside it shall be impure and [the vessel] itself you shall break. As to any food that may be eaten, it shall become impure if it came in contact with water; as to any liquid that may be drunk, it shall become impure if it was inside any vessel.” (Leviticus 11:33-34)

Swing #1: “An earthenware vessel can become unclean only on the inside, never on the outside, for it has no value in itself. Its sole worth lies in the fact that it can serve as a receptacle for an object of value. Metal utensils, on the other hand, have value in themselves and can therefore become unclean on the outside also. Man, being made of dust, is like an earthenware vessel. His worth lies not in the outer shell but in the human qualities within.” — Menahem Mendl of Kotzk

Swing #2: “The following liquids make food and seeds susceptible to impurity: dew, water, wine, oil, blood, milk, and honey.” — Mishnah Machshirin 6:4

Swing #3: “We see that food that has once been wet becomes unclean while dry food remains clean. This is because God commands us only regarding something that is complete. Thus, for example, there is the [hallah] offering. The Torah does not obligate us to separate the hallah offering unless we are kneading dough. If one separates hallah from the flour at any time before it is kneaded, the portion does not have the status of hallah.” — Rashbam

Late-Inning Questions: The commentaries above vary between literal and metaphorical meanings of the text. Is it sensible to draw vast conclusions from a topic as seemingly mundane as the validity of certain physical vessels? Or can we draw some profound conclusions? Are we, as Menahem Mendl of Kotzk suggests, like earthenware vessels? How can we be an effective “vessel” for other people or things?

On Deck At Emanu-El: Our guests from Shir Hadash are in Charleston, and we can’t wait for an outstanding Shabbat with them! Be here tonight at 5:15PM and tomorrow at 9:00AM for a special song-filled Danish & D’rash followed by 9:30AM services. Get to the shul early if you can! If you’re worried about crossing the Ravenel Bridge due to the Bridge Run, you can use I-526! Just be with us and enjoy.

The Big Inning At The End: I was disheartened to see my Chicago Cubs on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week. Why? The “SI Cover Curse” has meant doom for many a team and player. Can’’ our team just fly under the radar until, I don’t know, the World Series?!

Shabbat Shalom!