I have waited a while (9 months, actually) before posting the last of this series (you can find part 1 here, and part 2 here). I waited because I didn’t think I would be able to speak about why I wanted to try the mitzvah (commandment) of keeping kosher right out of the gate. At the start of this experience, everything was too new, too foreign.
Guess what? It’s still new. And some stuff is still foreign. But I do think I have a little perspective and experience to draw on.
Kashrut was one of the first mitzvot my family obligated ourselves to without first feeling “good” about it. Other commandments were taken on after we had tried them and had good experiences to build upon. For example, Shabbat was a source of comfort from the beginning of my marriage to Pandora, and even though our traditions changed through the years it (Shabbat) was something we knew we wanted to keep.
Pre-obligating, as it were, to a mitzvah we have never tried is a whole different ball of wax. And pre-obligating to a mitzvah that required us to add more dishes, put some stuff down in storage for a year, and flat out throw-away (donate, actually) other stuff is a whole different bowling-ball sized ball of wax.
So why do it?
As I’ve said before, not because it’s healthier. And not because I grew up with it, or needed somehow to fit in.
Part of the reason my family and I have continued to keep kosher is because it forces us to eat mindfully – to be conscious of the food choices we make every day, and the food choices we plan to make during the day. At a recent (kosher catered) event, they served cholent – a meat-based dish. I’m told it was very tasty too. But my kids had different plans – they wanted to have ice cream later. And because we choose to wait 6 hours between meat and milk meals, my kids had to choose between the here-and-now and the what’s-coming-later.
It’s not a bad skill to have.
Eating kosher means being (sometimes painfully) aware of ingredients. I’ve learned an entire dictionary of new words like casein and rennet, not to mention the entire process of making gelatin. I feel like I’ve memorized enough hechshers to confound an Egyptologist.
Keeping kosher means being cognizant of (not fixated on, merely sensitized to) the way food moves from the pantry or refrigerator and onto the table.
It’s not a bad way to be, honestly. It’s a little annoying at times, but any change in diet is like that.
Most of all, it keeps me focused on what my friend Jeff likes to say: “We are a mind in charge of a body, not the other way around. We are in control of our passions, but that doesn’t mean we can (or should) rid ourselves of them. We eat to live, rather than live to eat.”
And while I don’t do it in order to belong, keeping kosher never the less gives me a strong sense of belonging, of being part of something larger and more profound than anything I could have cooked up in my kitchen alone.
eat to live, not live to eat