This week’s Parasha is Shemini, and it includes some of the most intriguing commandments we have and one of the most important and dramatic proofs that Hashem is the indisputable author of our Torah. We learn from our Kashrut laws the important fact that there are just four animals in the entire world that have one of two signs to show they are a kosher animal. This fact is a proof that only Hashem could have created the world and is therefore the only one that could have written our holy Torah!
As for the four animals that the Torah prohibits us from eating, we find some very interesting wording, for it says, "Everything among the animals that has a split hoof, which is completely split and separated into double hooves, and that brings up its cud, that one you may eat. This is what you shall not eat from among those that bring up their cud, or that have split hooves: the camel, for it brings up its cud, but its hoof is not split: it is unclean to you; the hyrax, for it brings up its cud, but its hoof is not split: it is unclean to you; the hare for it brings up its cud, but its hoof is not split: it is unclean to you; the pig, for its hoof is split and is completely separated, but it does not chew its cud: it is unclean to you. You shall not eat of their flesh nor shall you touch their carcass: they are unclean to you."
The Kli Yakar says that in listing the non-kosher animals, the Torah first gives the characteristics of what is considered kosher, instead of simply explaining that the animal is not kosher because of the characteristics it lacks. This suggests that the presence of one kosher characteristic can actually make something worse, as when people who make no real effort to behave well make a point of publicizing their occasional good deeds or traits, instead of concentrating on getting rid of their deficiencies. This dishonesty labels them as non-kosher!
Its an amazing fact that no other animal has ever been found that fits this description of the pig – having a split hoof but not chewing its cud! Of the four animals who are not kosher due to one characteristic, the pig is the only one that has a split hoof. Pigs often stick out their leg, as if displaying the cloven hoof, and this may fool people into thinking that the pig is kosher, even though pigs do not chew their cud. It is not enough to have the outward appearance of an admirable person; one’s inner life is what counts. Our values and the things we strive to achieve make us who we are. In addition, pigs have an unusually fast digestive system and can digest poisonous food without getting sick; that is why they eat garbage.
The poisons are wrapped with fat and remain inside the body, and anyone who eats pig will consume those poisons. Kosher animals on the other hand are herbivores, and eat only grass, which they digest slowly, and therefore they must avoid poisons. Lobster and shellfish, which are also not kosher, roam the seabed and they too consume the refuse that lies there, and contaminated shellfish have caused almost instant death in countless cases.
Of course, these non-kosher animals, if eaten, have an effect on our Neshama and dull us in this world and the next. Eating forbidden foods also prevents us from learning Torah and dulls our senses. Apart from the health reasons that benefit us physically, our Rabbis teach us that our Kashrut laws are primarily there to benefit our spiritual well-being.
By observing the laws of Kashrut, a Jew can pull himself up the ladder of Kedusha, but if he ignores them, he will contaminate himself and eventually he will build up a barrier to block out his spiritual growth; this is called "Timtum Halev", the dulling or polluting of the heart! Rashi explains that the reason various animals are forbidden to Jews is that our spiritual mission is to attach ourselves to the ultimate source of spiritual life which comes from Hashem.
Continuing in the parasha, in pessukim 11:4-6 we read: Ach et zeh lo tochal, et hagamal uparsah eynenu, ve et hashafan uparsah lo yafrisu ve-et ha arnevet uparsah lo hefresah.
"This is what you should not eat, the camel but its hoof is not split; the hyrax, its hoof will not split; the hare, its hoofwas not split."
As we can see, the Torah is describing the three animals we are not permitted to eat because they do not have a cloven hoof. What does it mean when the Torah presents this injunction subtly using the present, future and past tense? How does this relate to us and what lesson can we learn from this? In Rabbi Twersky’s book on the Chumash he quotes Rav Yisrael of Salant, the founder of the Mussar movement, who says that this teaches us about our relationships with one another. As objectionable as a person’s present behavior may be, if he has in his family's past decent people of good character, we should realize that he has those traits of fine character within him which can eventually be nurtured and exposed.
He always has the opportunity to make Teshuvah even if he's the most sidetracked individual. There are countless instances of people who have made drastic lifestyle changes in their lives. In theory, we would be able to reject someone if their past, present and future were all devoid of any redeeming features. But in fact, that is never the case, and therefore there are never grounds for dismissing and giving up on anyone! He continues to say that if you have to push away, you should only do so with the left (weaker) hand but at the same time you must use the right (stronger) hand to attract and draw in. In masechet Sotah (16a) we read that the force of attraction should always exceed the force of rejection, and that “we must never despair of a Jewish Neshamah!"
Rabbi Frand tells the following story: There was a couple who went through the Holocaust. Before the Holocaust, they were fully observant of Torah and Mitzvot. After the Holocaust, unfortunately, the husband lost his faith and said, “That’s it! I’ve had it with G-d!” The husband gave up everything in terms of religious practice and belief. His wife though, did not have that same reaction. She begged her husband — “At least go to shul.” The husband refused. This went on for a while. Finally the wife said to the husband, “Listen, please do me a favor. Every morning you go out and buy a newspaper and you read it from cover to cover. Just humor me, when you pick up the paper at the newsstand, rather than coming home to read it, go to the shul and read the paper — please, to make me happy!” The husband wanted to please his wife. He spent the time reading the newspaper anyway, so he agreed to her proposal. He would go to shul every morning, sit in the back row and read the newspaper and so this went on for a few years.
Now ask yourselves: If you saw someone come into the back row of your shul every morning, not put on Tallit or Tefillin, not take a Siddur off the shelf, but simply make himself comfortable and read the newspaper for 45 minutes, what would your reaction be? Most likely our reaction would be very negative. “If you want to read the newspaper, go home and read the newspaper! How dare you be so disrespectful of this holy synagogue?”
To their credit the people in this particular shul did not say anything critical to this individual. They did not chastise him. Instead they began to schmooze with him, they invited him to join them for a l’chaim after praying and when someone had a Yahrtzeit, they invited him to join them in social gatherings. To make a long story short, this Holocaust survivor went from reading the newspaper in the back row of the shul every day to praying in shul three times a day! Eventually, he even became president of the shul!
What does that tell us? Our inclination would have been to immediately pronounce “Tameh who lachem” — this species is definitely not a kosher animal! But we did not know this man’s past. We were not clear about his present situation, and we certainly could not have guessed what his future turned out to be. This is what the Torah is teaching us. In order to proclaim “This one is Tameh” we must know that the hoof was not split in the past, the hoof is not currently split, and the hoof will never be split in the future. Short of that do not be so quick to say “Tameh hu lachem.”
We learn throughout our Torah that Hashem elevated us to be a separate and special people so we can be close to Him above all the other nations of the world. So why do so many Jews today choose to lower themselves to follow the other nations by following their ways eating their non-kosher foods and in their non-kosher restaurants. Our community has been blessed because of the Zechut of our fathers, grandfathers and the previous generations that forged a path for us to follow. Dining has always been a very social event, but our forefathers taught us that social dining and other types of assimilation prevent us from keeping our families together and a holy nation to Hashem.
May we all strive to keep the kashrut laws as it is written in our Holy Torah because Hashem gave those laws to the Jewish nation in order to elevate us. May we also understand the hidden message from the Torah that we can never judge someone without knowing his past and what he might have gone through in his life, and we can’t know his present challenges or what his future life will bring him. Also that by keeping kosher to the level that we should, whether it be in our homes or traveling on the road, our kashrut laws are for our own benefit and will stimulate our spiritual growth and will also benefit us in many other ways that we may not even be aware of! Amen!