Wednesday, April 3, 2013
INSIGHTS IN RASHI – THE IMPORTANCE OF KEEPING KOSHER
Vayikra, 11:44-45: “For I am HaShem your G-d – you shall sanctify yourselves and you will be holy, for I am holy; and you shall not contaminate your souls through any teeming thing that creeps on the earth. For I am HaShem who elevates you from the land of Egypt to be a G-d unto you…” Rashi, Vayikra, 11:45: sv. For I am HaShem who elevates you: “I brought you out so that you would accept upon yourselves My Mitzvos.” At the end of Parshas Shemini the Torah concludes its discussion of the laws of kashrus by reminding us of the fact that HaShem took us out of Egypt. Rashi explains that HaShem is teaching us a fundamental lesson; the whole purpose of the Exodus was so that the Jewish people would accept upon themselves the Mitzvos of the Torah. The Kli Yakar asks why the Torah should say this general point davke with regards to the laws of kashrus, it is equally pertinent to all the Mitzvos; accordingly he argues with Rashi. It is possible to answer this question using the following story. A Rav was once approached by a non-observant Jew; he wanted to increase his Torah observance by taking on one new Mitzvo; he was prepared to observe either the laws of Shabbos or Kashrus. Obviously, one should strive to observe all the Mitzvos and not pick and choose, yet it was clear in this case that had the Rav suggested that he keep both Mitzvos then he would have been unsuccessful. Moreover, the man may then have refused to observe anything new at all. Unsure how to answer this delicate question he asked a Gadol the question. The Gadol replied that he should take on the laws of Kashrus. This answer could seem quite surprising because the punishment for breaking Shabbos is more severe that that for eating non-kosher food. Yet the Gadol explained that there was a deeper factor at work: When a person eats non-Kosher food he does not only transgress the Torah but he brings into himself the spiritual impurity that is contained in that food. This forbidden food causes what is described as ‘timtum halev’ which is literally translated as a ‘blocking of the heart’ On a practical level this means that a person’s spiritual sensitivities are dulled by consumption of non-kosher food. Thus, committing this sin would make it very difficult for a person to increase his spiritual level further even if he was observing other Mitzvos. Therefore the Gadol explained that he should follow the laws of kashrus with the hope that this would facilitate an ‘unblocking’ of his heart and would enable him to ultimately increase his observance further. We can now answer the Kli Yakar’s question; he asked why Rashi explained that the Torah’s exhortation that the purpose of the Exodus was to keep the Mitzvos, came after the laws of kashrus in particular. It is possible to answer that the people needed to observe the laws of kashrus in order that they would be able to properly keep all the Mitzvos. This is because without observing these laws they would suffer from timtum halev which would prevent them from properly serving HaShem in other areas. Thus, the laws of kashrus serve as a kind of prerequisite to observance of all the Mitzvos; accordingly, the Torah reminds us of the purpose of the Exodus davke after the laws of kashrus because by observing these laws he would then be able to observe the whole Torah. This explanation applies to each person in some fashion whatever their level of observance. For some, it teaches the importance of striving to observe all the laws of kashrus in order to keep our souls free of spiritual contamination, and that it is insufficient to only maintain a kosher home whilst eating non-kosher food out of the house. For others whom this is already a given, the lesson may be that not everything with a hechsher is necessarily acceptable to eat. It is essential to clarify with a Rav well-versed in both the laws and the ‘facts on the ground’ with regards to what is reliable and what is not. For others, there may be a tendency to be more lenient with regards to what food one gives their children. Apart from the halachic questions involved, one Rav decried this practice given the fact that kashrus has such a powerful effect on our souls. And one final general lesson is that we must remember that observing the laws of kashrus should help facilitate our growth in all areas of Avodas HaShem by keeping our souls pure.