Torah E-Thought: You are what you eat!

ב״ה

 
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Dear Friend,

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Rabbi Eli Pink
Director of Education
Chabad Lubavitch Leeds

.........................

When discussing kosher animals, the Torah gives us two guidelines. They must have split hooves and chew the cud. These signs are not only the means by which we can identify kosher animals but the traits that make them kosher. In other words, there is a significance to each of these signs and an effect that these types of animals have on us.

Kashrut - often mischaracterised as healthy eating but really much more than that - is one of the focuses of this week's portion. A more spiritual reason given for kashrut is that "you are what you eat" so carnivorous animals and birds of prey are not kosher because we don't want to internalise their behaviour traits.

In general, by eating an animal, we are supposed to be elevating it from the animal kingdom into the human kingdom. To accomplish this it is essential that we not act like animals ourselves, for then the animal merely moves from one animal state to another when we eat it. Our superiority over animals is our ability to imitate G-d, overriding the limitations of nature. When we can harness dual emotions e.g., kindness and severity, love and awe, we have risen above animal nature.

The foot is our point of contact with the physical world but it is also our separation from it, the cushion that keeps us apart in our dealings with materiality, signified by the earth. When our “feet”—our involvement with the physical world—are “completely split”—two-dimensional—we know that we have risen beyond being animals.

The other kosher sign is rumination or chewing the cud, which alludes to the necessity of deliberating before engaging the animal, mundane aspects of life. We are not animals who just react to whatever situation we encounter - being humans we can respond with intellect, not just emotion.

The story is told about a debate that Maimonides had with the philosophers of the Sultan's court. He was extolling the superiority of the human while they insisted that animals could achieve the same. A challenge was made and a few months later, Maimonides received an invitation to a Court Banquet with a difference - it would be served by trained cats acting as waitresses. The cats performed their roles impeccably, but as the Egyptian philosophers began to gloat, Maimonides took let a mouse out of his pocket and the cats all scattered, dropping their dishes and running after the mouse.

Research shows that we spend 10-11 years of a 80 year life doing food related activities - cooking, eating, exercising and so on. This is longer than the average person spends working! The laws of kashrut are a way to ensure that we use this time as food for our souls as well as for our bodies.

Nowadays there are more kosher products that ever before available, but at the same time, determining the kosher status of a product is more difficult before one product can use ingredients from a number of different factories. A great resource is the “Is It Kosher” app from London Beth Din that also functions as a website isitkosher.uk. They’ve also made an Passover.isitkosher.uk page!

 
 
 
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Parshah in a Nutshell

Parshat Shemini

On the eighth day, following the seven days of their inauguration, Aaron and his sons begin to officiate as kohanim (priests); a fire issues forth from G‑d to consume the offerings on the altar, and the divine presence comes to dwell in the Sanctuary.

Aaron’s two elder sons, Nadav and Avihu, offer a “strange fire before G‑d, which He commanded them not” and die before G‑d. Aaron is silent in face of his tragedy. Moses and Aaron subsequently disagree as to a point of law regarding the offerings, but Moses concedes to Aaron that Aaron is in the right.

G‑d commands the kosher laws, identifying the animal species permissible and forbidden for consumption. Land animals may be eaten only if they have split hooves and also chew their cud; fish must have fins and scales; a list of non-kosher birds is given, and a list of kosher insects ( four types of locusts).

Also in Shemini are some of the laws of ritual purity, including the purifying power of the mikvah (a pool of water meeting specified qualifications) and the wellspring. Thus the people of Israel are enjoined to “differentiate between the impure and the pure.”

 


Parshat Parah

In preparation for the upcoming festival of Passover, when every Jew had to be in a state of ritual purity, the section of Parah (Numbers 19) is added to the weekly reading this week. Parah relates the laws of the Red Heifer with which a person contaminated by contact with a dead body was purified.