Weekly Drash - Shemini 5767
Compliments of First Fruits of Zion
Straining Gnats and Swallowing Camels
Shemini - שמיני : “Eighth"
Thought for the Week:
The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (Romans 14:3–4)
Nevertheless, you are not to eat of these, among those which chew the cud, or among those which divide the hoof: the camel, for though it chews cud, it does not divide the hoof, it is unclean to you. (Leviticus 11:4)
Though the Master kept the biblical dietary laws, He seems to have avoided the type of minutia arguments that so typically divide people and communities. In Orthodox Judaism today, the kosher-keeping world is divided into a dizzying myriad of differing standards and stringencies that segregate communities into factions of who may eat with whom. The situation was similar in the days of the Master. Certain sects of the Pharisees opted not to eat with common people lest the food be “un-tithed." These same Pharisees were surprised to see Yeshua eat with what they called “tax collectors and sinners." This does not mean that Yeshua was eating unclean food. He was simply not concerned with the hyper-litigious stringencies of the Pharisees.
When He sent out His disciples to the cities of the Galilee, He told them, “Whatever city you enter and they receive you, eat what is set before you." (Luke 10:8) It goes without saying that the Jews of Galilee were eating according to the biblical dietary laws. By telling them to eat whatever was set before them, the Master was telling His disciples not to be concerned with the additional questions of whether or not the food was properly tithed.
In Matthew 23:24, Yeshua criticized the Pharisees for straining out gnats while swallowing camels. Not that straining out gnats is a bad thing. Both gnats and camels are equally unclean. The Master was not advocating eating gnats. His point was that it is possible to become so concerned with the minutia of the Torah that the weightier matters are set aside.
Of course, the Pharisees were not actually eating camels. Yeshua used their dietary concerns as a metaphor for a larger problem. By fixating on the minutia of Torah law, the Pharisees were often guilty of neglecting the weightier commandments: “justice and mercy and faithfulness" (Matthew 23:23). He goes on to tell them that they should have been attentive to the minutia, but not at the expense of the weightier matters.
As we endeavor to keep the biblical dietary laws, we need to be careful not to allow the small scruples of our particular standards to isolate us from one another. As we attend to the small matters of Torah, we must also keep in mind the weightier matters. We do not want to be guilty of swallowing camels while straining gnats.
Shavuah Tov! Have a Good Week!
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