Word of the Month: Being kosher is about more than just food

D’var Torah
Rabbi David Ariel-Joel

David Ariel-Joel

Shana Tova, y’all!
We are in the month of Elul, the last and most important month of the Jewish year.
This is the month when we prepare ourselves for the new year. It is a month of soul searching; we stop to reflect, review and rethink who we are and what we have achieved this year. We consider how this time has impacted us and how we impacted it.
How have we done on the journey of becoming who we ought to be?
In Hebrew, the word Elul is an acronym for “I am for my beloved (friend, fellow human being) and my beloved is for me.”
Elul teaches that first and foremost is “I.” I must care for myself, protect myself, be safe and be sure I am taking good care of me.
But I also need to be there for my fellow human beings.
This year, we learned how caring for one’s self is related to caring for others: When we protect ourselves from the COVID pandemic, we care not only for ourselves, but for the good and welfare of everyone. Taking care of our souls, our bodies – our health – is considered the most important mitzvah. In doing so, we also protect others.
The acronym ELUL also means, “and my beloved is for me.” The other is obligated to take care of their needs, their health and mental wellbeing first and foremost, and then of mine; the other also is responsible for me and my wellness.
The great Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai, reflecting on his own life; wrote “I am a kosher person.” This modern poet extended the meaning of kosher beyond the world of ritual to an ethical dimension in which kosher represents the attempt to be human.
Amichai asked a big question: How do we continue to define kosher? In what ways can we see if we are kosher? Basically, are we trying to be decent human beings?
Living through the COVID-19 pandemic gives a new meaning to being “kosher.” For me, it is not about what we put in our mouths; it is about how we protect our own wellbeing and the wellbeing of everyone else in our midst.
May we all enjoy a shana tova (a good year), a year of good health, happiness and shalom (wellbeing, peace and wholeness). A year where we all will act as kosher people.

(David Ariel-Joel is a senior rabbi of The Temple.)

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