By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
Shabbat Parshat Shemini
22 Adar II 5765 - April 1, 2005
Among the most well-known precepts of Judaism
– to Gentiles as well as to Jews -- are the laws of Kashrut. The Torah
introduces this vast topic by
classifying living things.
And Hashem spoke to Moshe and to Aharon, saying to them, Speak to the Children
of Israel, saying: These are the living things that you shall eat (TOCHELU) from
among all the animals that are upon the earth. Any
animal that has completely cloven hooves and chews the cud, it shall you eat (OTAH
TOCHEILU). …Of the flesh [of creatures without both signs] you shall not eat (LO
TOCHEILU) … (Vayikra 11:1-3, 8).
Then aquatic creatures:
This you shall eat (TOCHELU) from all that is in the
water: everything that has fins and scales in the water, in seas or rivers,
those you shall eat (OTAM TOCHEILU). But anything that does not have fins and
scales in the seas or rivers, …of their flesh you shall not eat
(LO TOCHEILU)…(verses 9-11).
Next are birds (verses 13-19) and insects
(verses 20-23). After discussing other laws involving living things (verses
24-44), the passage concludes:
For I am Hashem Who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be for you
G-d; you shall be holy, for I am holy. This is the teaching of the animals, and
the birds, and every living thing that swarms in the waters, and of every
creature that multiplies on the earth. To distinguish (L’HAVDIL) between the
unclean and the clean, and between the animals that are eaten and the animals
that shall not be eaten (verses 45-47).
These are examples of what might be called
“optional mitzvot”, since there is no requirement to eat meat. However, one who
wants to eat meat may partake only of permitted species.
Rashi, based on the Torat Kohanim (3:1-2) here, notes the way the Torah speaks
of these creatures in both positive and negative terms, which seems redundant:
“it shall you eat (OTAH TOCHEILU): [Only it,] and not an unclean animal. – But,
it has already been prohibited [by the words you shall not eat
(LO TOCHEILU)]! -- However, this (verse) means that one transgresses thereby
both a positive and negative commandment.”
One would be violating you shall not eat as well as avoiding the obligation it
shall you eat.
But, how? Ramban (Commentary to Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvot, Introduction, Root 6)
does not include it shall you eat among the commandments. Sefer HaChinuch
(ascribed to either R. Aharon HaLevi or R. Pinchas HaLevi of Barcelona, mid-13th
Century; Commandments § 153-158, 162-165) agrees with Ramban’s reasoning:
“Since the Torah prohibited some animals to us, He would be obliged in any event
to inform us of the distinguishing marks of the clean ones, in order to separate
us from what is forbidden; and it is thus not fit at all to be counted as a
commandment in the reckoning.”
However, the Chinuch committed himself at the outset to follow Rambam’s
arrangement of mitzvot. And Rambam (Sefer HaMitzvot, Positive Commandments §
149-152, Negative Commandment § 172-179; Mishneh Torah “Introduction and Laws of
Forbidden Foods” 1:1; 2:1-4) states unequivocally that there are four positive
commandments here, “to examine” creatures for the marks of cleanness.
Accordingly, the Chinuch defines them:
§ 153 to examine the marks of a domestic or wild
animal (see also 20:25)
§ 155 to examine the marks of fish
§ 158 to examine the marks of locusts
§ 470 to examine the marks of birds (based on Devarim 14:11).
The practical consequence of ignoring these positive
“If someone violated this and made no examination, but merely saw one
distinguishing mark and relied on it to eat it – even if he should discover
afterward that he ate permissible food, he would thus disobey this positive
commandment of examining the
Rambam cites the concluding verse as his source:
(L’HAVDIL) between the unclean and the clean …
Torat Kohanim (6) says on this:
“Not only one who has learned, but rather one who knows which species are clean
and which are unclean.”
Malbim (R. Meir Leib ben Yechiel Michael,
explains the difference between “learning” and “knowing”: Had the Torah required
us “to learn,” then mere theoretical knowledge would have sufficed; rather, we
are obligated L’HAVDIL -- To distinguish – to utilize sense perception to
identify kosher creatures.
In the view of some authorities (e.g., Responsa Radbaz [R. David ben Shlomo ibn
Avi Zimra, 1479-1573],VIII chap. 1; Aruch HaShulchan [R. Yechiel Michel Epstein,
1829-1908]; Yoreh Deiah 79:1-2), the obligation to examine, according to Rambam,
occurs only if one wants to eat.
At the beginning of the “Laws of Forbidden Foods” however, Rambam formulates the
“There is a positive commandment to know the signs that distinguish … [emphasis
Tzafnat Pa’neiach (R. Yosef Rozin, the “Rogatchover Gaon,” 1858-1936) on the
Rambam (loc. cit.) and on Vayikra, p. 119f. puts forward the thesis that it is
the signs themselves that make these creatures kosher. He cites, among other
sources, Bava Batra 16a, where Iyov declares before G-d,
“You created the ox whose hooves are cloven, You created the donkey whose hooves
Consequently, the actual knowing of the signs
is a positive command, independent of their usefulness in avoiding the eating of
forbidden meat. [Thus, we should all know kosher creatures firsthand, even if we
don’t eat all of them; and this can be fulfilled by vegetarians as well! The
one-day conference on “The Mesorah of Kosher Birds and Animals” sponsored by the
UOJCA on May 2, 2004 enabled many to fulfill these four positive mitzvot.]
This knowing connects on the deepest level with the special sanctity of the
Jewish people. Even the saintly Noach needed to learn, from the Torah of Israel,
which animals were tahor, (see Rashi on Bereishit 7:2). And the saintly Iyov as
well associates the knowledge of these signs with Hashem’s ordering of Creation.
Noach and Iyov learned about it. But only Israel knows and lives it.
Having returned to their ancestral homeland after approximately 2,000
years in exile, the Jewish people ought to rethink the “stork” model of
chesed, which has become a hallmark of life in the Diaspora.
The stork, known in Hebrew as the “chasida,” is listed
among the non-kosher species of birds in this week’s Torah portion,
Parashat Shemini (11:13-19). Commenting on the etymology of the stork’s
name, the Gemara (Chullin 63a) asserts that the stork is called “chasida”
because it “performs acts of loving-kindness (chesed) with its fellow
Citing the Rambam’s declaration that all non-kosher
birds are cruel by their very nature, the Chidushei HaRim asks how it is
possible for the stork to be considered impure, on the one hand, and a
model of virtue, on the other. Looking closely at the words of the
Talmud, the Chidushei HaRim concludes that there must be some fundamental
flaw in the stork's chesed. Indeed, the stork limits its chesed to “its
fellow birds.” Rather than performing deeds of loving-kindness for all of
God’s creatures, the stork focuses its energies on its own species alone.
Throughout the long years of the Diaspora, the Jewish
people rightfully gained the reputation of being a generous people –
“merciful ones, the children of merciful ones.” Jewish communities around
the world developed remarkable institutional infrastructures to cope with
poverty, illness and disability. Yet, the Jewish people were forced to
adopt a “stork” model of chesed. Diaspora Jews were so busy addressing
internal problems that they did not have the luxury of spreading their
generosity beyond their own, insular communities.
With the return to the Land of Israel, the Jewish people
are now able to act as a collective moral agent in a way that it could not
before. Now, the Jewish people have formal state structures – the
government, the army, the economy, etc. – at its disposal to spread the
Jewish values of chesed and tikkun olam on a grand scale. Having made our
way back to the Land of Israel, we should examine whether we can move away
from the “stork” model of chesed and branch out to a new model of
loving-kindness with a more expansive reach. True, chesed starts at
home. But, it need not end there.
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North
American Rabbis and laymen who successfully made Aliyah, aimed at
highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting Aliyah. They send
emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on speaking-tours
throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Roness ,
Exec. Dir., Aloh Naaleh,
At the OU Center, 22 Keren HaYesod
Tel.(02) 566-7787 ex. 254