Shabbat Parshat Re'eh - 5759 "Ma'achalot Asurot,"
The "Non-Kosher" World
This weeks Parsha, Reeh, revisits the topic of Maachalot Asurot, items which are forbidden by the Torah for the Jewish People to eat. Interestingly, the very first prohibition given to humanity was, in effect, a prohibition of the Maachalot Asurot type.
Adam and Chava are commanded not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, nor to eat from the Tree of Life, although it is sometimes hard to see how eating from the former was a sin. For was not the effect of that "sin" to open the curtains on the main drama of human existencethe struggle between ones conscience and ones illegitimate desires. Some would emerge victorious from that conflict, as did Yosef HaTzakkik, about whom it is written, in the context of his attempted seduction by the wife of Potiphar, "Vayemaen," "And he restrained himself." And some would fall, as did Korach, about whom it is written, in the context of his mutiny against Moshe over the issues of power and leadership, "VaYikach Korach," "And Korach took," despite the fact that "he was wise."
Vegetarianism is also an interesting topic, in this regard. For it is clear from Hashems instructions to Adam, "From every tree of the Garden, you may surely eat," (Bereshit 2:16) except for the trees discussed above, that the flesh of animals - living beings, creatures of G-d, was not at this point permitted. That had to wait for Hashems command to Noah, after the Great Flood, which was a punishment of humankind for its endemic violence. It was as if Hashem was saying to Noah, "First, lets deal with human beings killing each other. Afterwards, well worry about the morality of killing animals for food." That relaxation of the Eden-based prohibition on eating animals is echoed in todays Parsha, "Whenever you want to, you may eat meat." (Devarim 12:20)
There was an early debate among Chazal about the subject of how a Jew should feel when confronted with the smell of, lets say for argument's sake, the classic "treife meichel," bacon and eggs. One opinion is that the Jew should train him/herself to feel repulsed by the smell. The other opinion is that the Jew should be more "honest," assuming, of course, that he really does like the smell, and say inwardly, "I do desire it, but what shall I do? My Father in Heaven has forbidden it to me."
In Bina BaMikra, Rav Yissachar Jacobson presents the "modern" elaboration on the theme of the ancient debate, which truly affects every aspect of the Torah, and has ramifications far beyond the kitchen, important though that may be.
Rav Jacobson presents excerpts from the RAMBAM, Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, or Maimonides, and from the RAMBAN, Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, or Nachmanides, on the subject of the Dietary Laws. Here, these two great Torah giants, who were also physicians, are writing from the point of view of their professions: RAMBAM writes, for example, that the pig is by nature an unhealthy and dirty animal, and its flesh can therefore never be fully clean, no matter what is done to it. RAMBAN emphasizes, particularly with regard to birds, the negative effects upon the human physiology, of eating birds of prey, as all the prohibited birds, as well as the animals which do not have the two characteristics of kashrus, are creatures of prey.
Abarbanel flees from a purely physical interpretation of these laws, and emphasizes the spiritual and psychological effects upon the person, the "timtum halev," the contamination and obstruction of the heart, of which the Midrash speaks.
Rabbi Shmuel Dovid Luzzatto emphasizes the social and philosophical aspects of the Dietary Laws. Socially, they serve the purpose of separating the Jewish People from their non-Jewish neighbors and philosophically, they are an exercise in self-discipline. Over and above their possibly negative physiological effects, the Jew must withdraw, must refrain from tasting, or from satisfying any physical desire, simply because it is the command of the Creator.
To mitigate the self-denial aspect of Luzzattos approach, Jacobson cites an idea from the somewhat oddly titled work by Professor Aharon Brot, "Why were the Commandments Given?" as follows: Judaism, unlike other religions, distinguishes between "desire" and "will." Judaism believes that the human being must, as a servant of G-d, subordinate his desires to his thoughts, and in this way achieve self-discipline and free will.
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel
Rabbi Frankel is an Educational Coordinator at the OU