I was about to write a thoughtful essay about finding spiritual strength in troubling times. And then I went to the kitchen to grab a snack. I split an English muffin and place it in the toaster. Just then I had an insight. My search for transcendence began in my kitchen.
I had been reading Parshat Emor. Aaron, the High Priest, was told to collect oil to keep the lamps continuously burning. Also, Aaron was directed to display twelve loaves of bread each week. I thought about how we always leave a light on in our kitchen and the food on the counter. Two under-appreciated blessings were in front of me. First was the luxury of lights being ready and always available. The second was the display of English muffins, neatly arranged and packaged. Our kitchen was a modern replica of the holy temple.
The Priests lit the oil lamps and displayed the shewbreads of the bet Hamikdash solely to honor God. They were not on public display. Yet, these holy accouterments required collaboration and effort. The oil for the lamps and flour for the bread were contributions from many people. The lighting of the lamps and the baking of the bread required the work of the priestly hands. So too, the electricity we enjoy and the foods we eat reach us only after the efforts of many. We can undertake the priestly role. When we turn on lights or set out food to eat, the priestly act is to remember God as the true source.
An additional instruction to Aaron was to place the candelabrum and shewbreads on “pure tables”. Curious, I wondered what makes a table pure? In Talmud, the Rabbis explore the purity of objects. Movable items, like a table, can contact impurity. Moreover, the tables were not Ikea pressboard, but solid wood covered with gold. Even ordinary items like a table can be made worthy of God’s notice. Then came my next insight.
What is ordinary, even in a kitchen, has the potential for holiness. Only two things are required. First, keep the kitchen pure. I don’t merely suggest cleaning surfaces. We wash hands before eating, compost scraps, buy healthy foods, avoid food waste, and recycle plastics. Waste, pesticides, and excess packaging are the impurities of today. While engaging in essential daily activities like shopping, food preparation, and eating, we should be mindful of these impurities.
The second is to treat our possessions as if they should be pleasing to God. We don’t have to display our possessions for the world’s approval. Rather, consider if your belongings are worthy of God’s notice. Do you buy free trade products? Or prefer something cheap made by underage labor over items made in safe work environments? Do you treat your possessions with respect or as disposables? How we engage in commerce is a daily opportunity to bring Godliness into our homes.
I found holiness in my kitchen, eating an English muffin. I elevate my spirituality when I avoid the impurities in this world and make purchases worthy of God’s notice. If we all did the same, we would be a nation of priests, just as the Torah desires.
Rabbi Evan J. Krame