According to the Babylonian Talmud our parasha this week is the exact middle of the Torah, in fact, it suggests that the letter vav in the word gachon, belly, is the precise centre of the Torah. (Kiddushin 30a)It appears in the verse describing the laws of kashrut: “You shall not eat among all things that swarm upon the earth, anything that crawls on its belly, or anything that walks on all fours, or anything that has many legs for they are an abomination.” It is interesting that the middle letter of the Torah falls in the word belly which is the middle of a person’s body! This seems to suggest that one of the teachings we can glean from this parasha is about middles. We spend much of our lives focusing on the beginnings and endings, the big events and moments, and we too often ignore the middles, but it is in the middles, in the mundane moments of everyday life that some of the most important things happen.
I believe that the middles are where so many of the good and meaningful moments are to be had. And perhaps that is why in this parasha, where God commands us to be holy as God is holy, we find the minutae of the dietary laws, something seemingly mundane and everyday. God implores us to make the everyday holy, to find preciousness in the in between, not only in the great moments in our lives, the beginnings, endings and achievements, but also in the everyday. Each of us has the opportunity to make every minute of our day count for something beyond ourselves, to elevate the acts we perform routinely out of the ordinariness and actualize their potential for holiness. Eating is something we all have to do to survive, every day, usually more than once. The Torah, with the laws of kashrut, the system of blessings, says “don’t just eat, don’t just have food to survive, make that very act a holy one, make that in-between something special.”
There is a Buddhist teaching which has become a movement of its own in practicing mindfulness. It encourages us to be mindful of the acts we may do without really thinking, like eating, and indeed there is a whole sub branch specifically for teaching mindful eating. It says that we should take time to notice and be grateful for our food, to really stop and think every time we eat about what we are eating and how it came to us. The laws of kashrut and so much of the Torah is encouraging the same, it is about being mindful of our everyday acts and then going one step further, through that mindfulness, of elevating that act to be something holy Eating is one of those “middle” activities, one of those things that could become routine and habitual and the Torah says to us; make it precious, count those moments, make them holy. So as we come to the middle of the Torah, let us notice the vav, notice the middles of our lives and turn those moments into holy, sacred times of mindfulness and gratitude.