Shemini 3

D'var Torah by Rabbi Jay Spero


Why Keep Kosher?

Parshas Shemini

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"Speak to the children of Israel saying: These are the creatures you may eat from, amongst the animals on the earth" (Vayikra Ch.11:1). 

In this week’s portion, Hashem gives the Jews the mitzva of keeping kosher — which animals, fish, and even locusts(!) we are allowed to eat, and which ones we are not. 

Throughout the generations, one of the primary ways by which one was identified as a Jew was by what one ate. It was something about which non-Jews scorned and humiliated us, and in our own eyes, it was something we would cling to at nearly any price. 

Why has keeping kosher defined us to such a strong degree, and is keeping kosher relevant to us today? 

Does Hashem care what we put in our mouths and stomachs? 

When Hashem created us He did so with various needs. For example, he created us with a need to sleep. If sleep was not an integral part of humanity, He certainly would not have created us with the need to spend nearly a third of our lives sleeping. He created in us a need to love, and to be loved. Obviously it is important for us to develop our emotional side, or else He would not have created us with one. 

He also created in us a need to eat. When we eat, it is more than a simple opportunity to replenish ourselves. It is also a chance for us to make choices and to discipline ourselves. Hashem created the world with options for improvement or for regression. He also tailor made the world to coincide with these two options. Our eating kosher reminds us of our Creator and the goals He wants us to reach as human beings. Eating kosher, i.e. elevating our spiritual side, and not eating non-kosher, i.e. disciplining our animalistic side, helps us to improve. 

A kosher animal is not "good", and a non-kosher animal is not "bad". What they are is compatible or incompatible with our growth. 

Although we do not know for certain why we may only eat animals that have split hooves and chew their cud, we can postulate from the laws and examples given in the Torah that the only animals which we are allowed to eat are herbivores; the only birds we may eat are non-predatory birds; and the only fish we may eat are non-bottom feeders. 

And when we eat we are not doing Hashem a "favor" by keeping only kosher.  We do ourselves a favor. Hashem gave us the commandments to help us, not Him. 

By not ingesting non-kosher foods we enable our spiritual side to shine through.

Rabbi Jay Spero is the rabbi of the Saranac Synagogue in Buffalo.

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