CCAR Newsletter January/February 2021 - 6

VOICES OF TORAH (Continued from page 5)

us we all live in one world and must learn to work
together for the sake of all humankind.

S'firat HaOmer
For a " mathophobe, " symbolically journeying
through the desert from Egypt to Sinai by counting
the Omer, davka in Hebrew, was a nightmare. S'firat
HaOmer was not mentioned either while I was
growing up as an English Liberal Jew nor in the early
years of my rabbinate. Now that it is omnipresent, I
must engage with it. To make it a vivid companion
on my way from Exodus to Revelation, I have sought
meaning in the days between that does not rely on
counting or mysticism.
My favorite Sinai midrash (Sh'mot Rabbah, Parashat
Ki Tisa 42:7) tells that when the Torah was revealed
Sinai was green and covered in flowers. We can
enrich the path to Shavuot by highlighting a
different plant each day, reciting the b'rachah for
nature as well as that for the counting. We may
choose plants that can be found in the Sinai, such
as zahrur (Sinai hawthorn), hamaat (wild fig), and

bardagush (sage); looking them up to discover what
they are might be an end in itself. We can add our
own indigenous plants, including learning about
their habitat in addition to acquiring knowledge
about plants.
We might devote an Omer season to exploring birds
or other animals one year; this builds an elevating
core of knowledge that will make the days between
Pesach and Shavuot a source of richness and raised
awareness of the vital need to save our world. That is
the sort of counting I can get my head around!

The last two verses of Parashat Sh'mini contain
words whose meaning is familiar but whose context
is ripe for interpretation. After recounting the
deaths of Nadav and Avihu, the dietary laws, and
laws concerning contamination, we might expect
an inconsequential ending, but I believe we find
something quite different.

human appetite, we might find the rights of animals
slaughtered and consumed a surprising subject of
concern. Yet the word nefesh is used twice in one
verse (Leviticus 11:46), and while the p'shat may be
clear, the d'rash it suggests is highly significant. Few
people fortunate enough to share their lives with
animal companions of diverse species would find
radical the claim that their companions have a soul,
a transcending life force, one of the dimensions of
existence that we share.
And the use of torah (Leviticus 11:46) in connection
with the laws pertaining to these creatures may
also be taken to be simple and unremarkable, yet
to me it suggests something more: This is the torah
of beasts and birds alerts us to the existence of torah
for non-human animals, as there is a torah for us
primates. This use of torah accords them status; taken
together with the twofold ascription nefesh, Torah
requires that we treat animals with great respect and
compassion, mirroring how we hope other humans
would treat us.

While there are many interpretations of the dietary
laws, such as the need to place bounds on the


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CCAR Newsletter January/February 2021

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of CCAR Newsletter January/February 2021

CCAR Newsletter January/February 2021 - 1
CCAR Newsletter January/February 2021 - 2
CCAR Newsletter January/February 2021 - 3
CCAR Newsletter January/February 2021 - 4
CCAR Newsletter January/February 2021 - CRE1
CCAR Newsletter January/February 2021 - CRE2
CCAR Newsletter January/February 2021 - 5
CCAR Newsletter January/February 2021 - 6
CCAR Newsletter January/February 2021 - 7
CCAR Newsletter January/February 2021 - 8