Divrei Torah

PARSHAS SHMINI 5778

In today’s Parsha, we read about the laws of kashrus. One of the animals mentioned is the pig that in the background looks kosher, but when one takes a closer look, it is faking. The Torah describes for us what makes an animal, bird and fish fit to be eaten and what disqualifies them from our menus. 

There are different types of animals. There is an animal that is called a חיה and there is an animal that is called a בהמה. A חיה is an animal that lives in the wild – for example - a deer. A בהמה is a domesticated animal - for example – a cow. Among the בהמות and חיות there are three different types of animals that we cannot eat. Firstly, there is what is called a טמאה - an impure animal. These are animals that do not have both signs of a kosher animal - split hooves and chew their cud.

There are four animals– the camel, rabbit, rock badger and pig that the Torah gives special mention to them because the Torah notes that they each only have one of the two kosher signs. All other species either have both kosher signs and are acceptable or have neither kosher sign. The Talmud asks a question, “Was Moshe a biology professor or scientist?” How did he know that there were no more such species? This is one of the proofs to the truth of the Torah. Moshe was putting G-d’s reputation - so-to-speak - and his own on the line. What if another such species is discovered? But, there has never been another species discovered that has only one of the two Kosher signs.

Secondly – in addition to the non-kosher animals - there is also a category called a נבילה - an animal that is kosher by birth but did not die from a proper slaughtering. The third category is a treifa - an animal that is kosher by birth, but is diseased and will not live for a year. Now, we use the term treif generically, referring to all animals that can’t be eaten.

The Torah does not give us any signs of a Kosher bird. The Torah lists 24 non-Kosher birds. Any birds that do not fall under these 24 species are kosher. The difficulty that presents itself to us is that we are unsure as to the exact definition of all of the birds to which the Torah refers. Therefore, only birds that have a tradition as being kosher are acceptable.

The Torah describes for us kosher fish. They must have fins and scales.  The Torah prohibits us to put into our mouths these animals, birds and fish or foods that are derivatives from them.

Although eating these foods is not permitted, one is generally permitted to benefit from non-kosher foods. However, there are exceptions. For example, from mixtures of milk and meat one is forbidden to derive benefit. The most practical application of this law is with pet food. One cannot feed their animal foods that contain this compound.

The Torah commands us to watch what goes into our mouths. Just as certain foods might taste good but they increase one’s cholesterol and stop up the arteries, non-kosher food also might taste good, but it stops up the arteries . . . the spiritual arteries. 

Although people who don’t keep kosher contribute to Jewish charities and causes and feel a connection to the Jewish people, statistics show it is less than half of all Jews who contribute. Only a small percentage of American Jews have visited Israel. Why? A few generations of non-kosher food eventually stops up the spiritual arteries.

However, the Torah not only warns us to watch what goes into our mouths, it also warns us to watch what comes out from our mouths. Just as what goes into our mouths has to be kosher, what comes out of it also has to be kosher. We daven . . . we say brachos . . . we speak words of Torah. But, what else comes out of our mouths? How is our language? Is it clean or tainted with profanities? Do we talk positively or negatively about others – lashon hara? Do we say berachos before and after eating or do we not think about G-d when eating? Just as non-kosher food stops up our spiritual arteries, so does non-kosher language, non-kosher speech and lack of berachos stop up our spiritual arteries.

The Torah obligates us to take care of ourselves - to take care of our bodies. So, we have to exercise to stay in shape, keep down our weight, cholesterol and blood pressure. The Torah also obligates us to take care of our souls. We have to keep our spiritual arteries unclogged, but, we have to gain weight . . . spiritual weight.  That is done through kashrus – kashrus of our material food as well as our spiritual food.