I am a big believer in
the statement (which one sometimes encounters in sermons or essays):
"What comes out of your mouth is even more important than what goes
into your mouth!"
On that note, let me
publicly ask my wife's forgiveness (well ahead of
Rabbi Eli Munk, in his commentary on this parsha in The Call of the Torah (Mesorah Publications), gives a brief, but masterful, overview of how the great Jewish thinkers have understood this body of legislation. What follows are some insights taken from (or inspired by) his discussion.
From the very earliest days of Creation, the human relationship to food (glorious food) was an important concern. Consider the first prohibition given to mankind. "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, you must not eat thereof…"
G-d could have given Adam and Eve any instruction at all as a means of training them in following the guidelines of Divine Wisdom: "Of all the clovers of the garden, you may freely pluck; but the four-leaf clover you must not pluck!"
But, instead, He chose to give them…a dietary law. As Rabbi Munk explains:
Unlike what many wrongly imagine, G-d was not out (and is not out) to spoil our fun; note that our desires and physical nature are to be subordinated to a higher directive, curbed and moderated--not squashed or denied. Adam and Eve, remember, had a whole garden of delightful trees to taste, and they were strongly encouraged (even commanded, some say) to do so.
Similarly, there is a
whole world of delightful tastes that we can, and should enjoy. Only
some few items has G-d omitted from our menu. And the moral effect on
those who observe these dietary laws, starting from even the youngest age,
is most salubrious: we learn--and are constantly reminded--that we can say,
"No," to our desires, that "mind can triumph over
Another great spiritual benefit of the dietary laws is that they train us in the truth that G-d understands things better than we do. For there is no real logical or medical reason why the Torah denies Jews the pleasure of pork or shellfish; kashrus, therefore, belongs to the category of Torah laws known as chukim, decrees that fundamentally transcend our human reason. (Commentators hundreds of years ago convincingly knocked down the shallow notion that the primary purpose of these laws was hygienic.) In what way eating certain creatures makes us spiritually "abominable" (a term the Torah uses in the parsha), how exactly it upsets the equilibrium between body and soul or dulls our capacity for spiritual perception (as our Sages tell us it does), we cannot know for sure. While not irrational, these commandments are, indeed, suprarational.
Theories have been offered to explain certain aspects of kashrus, including the well known (and plausible) one that the animals and birds prohibited by the Torah are chiefly predatory in nature. Still, how the ingesting of such animals would cause spiritual harm is beyond our basic understanding. And that is not such a terrible thing, after all: we Jews know it all, but can't we agree to leave a little room for Hashem's Highest Wisdom to dwarf ours?
Whatever our own investigations yield (and we Jews are commanded to use our reason and delve into the Torah, seeking to uncover its secrets), the grand purpose of these laws is clearly stated at the end of the parsha: holiness. "For I am Hashem your G-d-you are to sanctify yourselves and you shall become holy, for I am holy…"
May we all strive to observe these dietary laws, which have been a pillar of Jewish observance for thousands of years, and thereby (along with diligent study of laws of proper speech) sanctify our mouths in BOTH directions.
Insights Into Exodus
Insights Into Leviticus
Insights into Numbers
Insights Into Deuteronomy
Rabbi Yosef Edelstein, Savannah Kollel. Phone: 355-0157; fax: 354-9923; e-mail address: Yosef18@aol.com
Produced and distributed by the Ben Portman Computer facilities of the Savannah Kollel.
This Dvar Torah page created and hosted courtesy of OU.ORG. No responsibility for its contents may be implied or taken by the OU.