The factory manager called to say his plant needed to be made kosher; his company had a kosher order that needed processing right away. He set the date for the first intermediary day of Sukkot: a time when urgent work is allowed by Jewish Law but is still filled with the spirit of the holiday and colored by the ongoing mitzvahs of eating all meals outdoors in the sukkah and saying the blessing on the lulav and esrog. It was a beautiful autumn day.
The food-processing plant is tucked into one of the small towns that punctuate rural Ohio’s flow of fields and woods. It’s a long drive from home through the fall landscape. After 90 minutes, I emerge from the car’s sunlit bubble and enter the plant. Already, the jacketed tanks are steaming and the pipes hissing. The factory manager has gone out on an errand. When he comes back, we’ll be ready to go, sending boiling water coursing through all the plumbing. Then the kosher product can safely follow.
Something’s different today: The plant’s owner has stopped by, along with his teenage son. I’ve never met them before. The owner steps forward to shake my hand. “I guess you’re going to bless the equipment now, right?” he says, smiling.
Returning his smile, I say: “I’m here to make sure the job gets done right.” I invite him to follow and learn the process of kosherizing his plant, but he excuses himself, explaining that he has planned a full afternoon with his son. The owner respects things spiritual, happy to think of blessings on his equipment. Had there not been a demand for kosher product, he probably wouldn’t have hired us, but that’s not important. He’s content to leave the details of this blessed work to his manager and me.
The plant manager knows exactly what is required. For years, he has helped rabbis make his plant kosher; he knows I didn’t come to say prayers over his equipment or sprinkle the pipes with holy water. He knows his machinery must be down for 24 hours before I come. He knows the water must be at a rolling boil. And he announces each step to me as he pulls the handles that send the water through the system. He beckons to me to lightly touch the water-filled pipes and feel their new heat.
He knows also to bring me to a quiet corner after the work is done, where I won’t be interrupted during the afternoon prayers.
Nothing remarkable has gone on; it’s only a quiet day’s work. But for all the ordinariness, it’s still holy work. Holiness can scream and shout, but it doesn’t have to. Today, it just smiles and points-here, far from any Jewish community, a factory is processing food ingredients that are kosher. It’s good business for the owner, but something else is going on.
Though he doesn’t really grasp the mechanics, the factory owner sees a confluence of good business and things good for the soul. He’s happy that the manager and I will make the good business happen.
The manager, too, appreciates both the practical and the spiritual. He does all in his power to accommodate my needs, both as a kosher supervisor and as a Jew who needs to converse a little with G-d.
And in the end, some Jews I’ll likely never know will eat the food processed here; its spark of energy will give them strength to serve G-d. Someone will trust that care was taken that this food should be kosher-fit to power the good work of a life.
The individual pieces of what we have done are ordinary, but their sum is remarkable. Through the lens of this mitzvah of keeping kosher, the everyday working world shows itself an astonishing place. Human purposes interweave, supporting each other. One person invests trust in another, one person empowers another, energy and purpose are shared. Apparent opposites-workday and holiday, Jew and non-Jew, the business of food and its spirituality-resolve into a singular whole, a holiness real enough to taste.