by Rabbi Jay Spero
Spero at 862-9546 or email@example.com
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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
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
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.
Jay Spero is the rabbi of the Saranac
Synagogue in Buffalo.