From the ashes of Sinai, He commands
us to eat no thing that has not hooves but paws
for earth itself fell victim to our hands;
the ground grows thorns and the cat has grown claws.
To think, the lion once grazed like a goat
but now he stalks the young and ill to maul—
takes the calf in his teeth and tears the throat—
then bares the bloody fangs of our own fall.
Our bodies now, in bondage to decay,
reek with the stench and horror of disease.
Even the blood of birth echoes the day
we warred against a God we cannot now appease
with the empty blood of calf or bird or ram.
Abram’s God alone can provide a worthy lamb.

This sonnet was born out of some reflections on my recent readings in the Pentateuch. Particularly, it was pointed out to me that nearly all of the unclean animals were either predators or scavengers. The violence and indiscriminate consumption of these creatures would have no place in the Garden, no place in a world without death. Their presence in our own world reminds us of the severe consequences that result when the world rejects its true king and the peaceful order (shalom) of his kingdom. 

I also noticed that many of the things that made someone ‘unclean’ seemed to be connected in some way to the curse that resulted from Adam and Eve’s disobedience. Illness, deformity, pain, infertility, the loss of blood, the stench of basic bodily functions, all of these were (and are) symbols of the fall. The rules set out for the Israelites at Sinai were then intended to communicate the continuing reality of our separation from a perfectly Holy God. Similarly, the sacrifices were meant to point toward how that separation would be overcome.