In 1912, the National Association of Jewellers met in Kansas and devised a list of twelve “birthstones”- jewels of little value which would from then on represent the month which one was born in. The birthstone phenomenon caught on, and nowadays, birthstone jewellery is a common and fairly inexpensive gift. Though most women know what their birthstone is, few people know the origin of the birthstone list drawn up in 1912.
The twelve stones were a modified version of the stones found in Aharon’s breastplate. Aharon, the high priest, and brother of both Moshe Rabbenu and Miriam, wore a breastplate with stones to represent the 12 tribes of Israel. The Association took these stones and, replacing them with fairly common jewels, intended to make a huge profit out of gems which would otherwise have gone unnoticed. A clever marketing ploy, for sure, but one is inclined to question the motives behind- and the significance of- this action. The Jewellers where essentially trying to “cheapen” a very holy artefact, by altering it to suit their means and attempting to make money out of it.
In making the Holy mundane, they thankfully failed. Though birthstones remain popular, the origins of the 12 stones is largely forgotten. However, Jews around the world do the exact opposite- namely making the mundane Holy- every single day.
This incredible transformation, in which something completely normal and everyday is turned into an outlet for the worship and honour of G-d, is the mitzvah of Kosher. Kosher isn’t just dietary laws. It isn’t just separating meat and milk and avoiding certain foods which may very well look tempting on the shelves of the supermarket. It doesn’t even stop at being an exercise in self-restraint and resilience! The true meaning of Kosher is making what’s mundane- food- very Holy.
It might not initially seem that way. For most people, Kosher is the most “down to earth” mitzvah. It’s the most practical part of being a Jew. It’s why we go that extra mile (or two, or three…) when there’s a perfectly good “normal” supermarket right nearby. It seems impossible to separate the word “Kosher” from thoughts of liberally pouring salt over a joint of meat. It hardly seems to be the most dignified activity. But that is exactly why it’s so Holy. In Parshas Shlach, we learn about the intentions of the 10 Israelite spies who attempted to prevent the Jewish people from entering the Promised Land. They shunned physical mitzvot, and knew that by staying in the desert, they could dedicate themselves to more lofty activities.
The spies were condemned to death. Their failure to be enthused by physical mitzvot brought about their end. And yet we still sometimes fail to apply this important lesson to our daily lives. It’s the physical mitzvot- the ones which seem the most mundane, the most physically gruelling!- which matter. And by keeping Kosher, Jews can make mundane things an expression of love and devotion to not just their Jewish roots but to G-d, as well. May these Jews succeed in their efforts and bring about the coming of the Moshiach, speedily and in our days!