Sharona Margolin Halickman
Parshat Re'eh 2001
A recent headline in the New York Post caught my eye: "Mozart died from pigging out on poisonous pork".
A Seattle doctor believes that Mozart, who died in 1791 at age 35, died from trichinosis, a disease caused by eating uncooked pork. How does this doctor know that Mozart ate pork? In a letter written by Mozart a few weeks before he got sick, he described delicious pork cutlets that he was about to eat.
Would Mozart have been a healthier person if he kept kosher?
Now that trichinosis is not really an issue can we abandon the laws of kashrut?
Although in some cases keeping kosher has saved Jews from getting sick and dieing from certain illnesses, the reason why we keep kosher is not because it is healthier for our bodies... We keep kosher because it is healthier for our souls.
Throughout the Torah, we only find one reason why G-d wants the Jewish people to keep kosher. This reason is reiterated in Parshat Re'eh - Devarim 14:21:
You shall not eat any carcass, to the stranger who is in your cities shall you give it that he may eat it, or sell it to a non-Jew, For you are a holy people to Hashem your G-d. You shall not cook a kid in its mother's milk.
According to the Torah, Keeping kosher makes the Jewish people Kadosh- holy, separate, sanctified.
What about keeping kosher makes us an Am kadosh?
1. According to Ramban, Nachmanides, the laws of Kashrut teach us not to be cruel.
Our pasuk ends with the words:
Don't cook a kid in its mother's milk
We shouldn't be a cruel and unmerciful people.
A holy person does not act in a cruel manner. Mixing milk and meat is a cruel act because you are cooking a baby animal in its mother's milk.
According to Ramban, the act of mixing meat and milk is a cruel act. However, it is not a disgusting act.
Think about it: if it was disgusting to mix meat and milk, then Burger King and McDonalds would not be the most popular restaurants in America. Eating a cheeseburger is not like eating insects and rodents which the whole country was disgusted by while watching Survivor.
An Am Kadosh, a holy people is not supposed to be cruel. We should keep this in mind not only when we eat, but also in our day to day relationship with the world around us.
When we are shopping for products other than food, we should keep in mind that some products will help prevent cruelty in this world better than others.
Many bath and cosmetic companies sell products which have not been tested on animals.
When shopping for clothing, we should watch out for lines of clothing produced in sweat shops where workers, many of whom are under-age, work in terrible conditions for hardly any money. These sweat shops are similar to the ones where many of our ancestors worked in the early 20th century.
It is our responsibility to help stop cruelty. In that way we will make the world a better place, holier place.
2. According to Sforno, we keep kosher simply because that is what G-d requests from us.
Lets return for a moment to the beginning of our Pasuk:
You shall not eat any carcass, to the stranger in your cities shall you give it, that he may eat it or sell it to a non-Jew.
Sforno comments that there is nothing unhealthy about eating a carcass. If it was unhealthy, G-d wouldn't recommend giving it to a non-Jew. We don't eat it because G-d wants us to be separate and different.
We see this clearly in Parshat Kedoshim, Vayikra 20:26
You shall be holy for me, for I Hashem am holy and I have separated you from the peoples to be mine.
Rashi says that when we see unkosher food, we should actually say Efshi- that looks so delicious, I wish I could eat it. However, G-d wants me to be separate and sanctified and therefore I won't eat it.
Being an Am Kadosh means that we should strive as a community to do G-d's will. That may be the reason why many of our prayers that have the word kadosh in them such as the Kaddish, and the Kedusha must be said with a minyan. They must be said as a community. In everything we do we should strive to work together as a community to elevate ourselves to become holy.
What character traits can we learn from certain non-kosher animals? Lets take two examples: The pig and the stork.
1.Midrash Raba teaches us that we learn from the pig that a holy person shouldn't put on an act, they should act the same way in public as they do in private.
A pig is not kosher because although it has split hooves, it does not chew it's cud. A pig puts on an act. On the outside he says, you see, I'm kosher, I have split hooves. However, on the inside he is not kosher, he doesn't chew his cud.
The midrash compares Esav to the pig because in front of his father he put on an act that he was a holy person, observing the mitzvot. However, it was only an act. He even plotted to kill his brother Jacob, but waited until after his fathers death.
Keeping kosher can be a constant reminder that we should live our lives, both publicly and privately in a holy manner. So many of our important mitzvoth are not the public mitzvoth which need to be performed in a shul. Many of our mitzvoth are performed at home, where nobody is watching. On Shabbat and holidays, we make kiddush, also from the root kadosh, we sanctify the Shabbat day over wine. This mitzvah must be performed, even by one person eating alone. Or Taharat HaMishpacha, family purity. This is a mitzvah that is so private, nobody knows who is performing it, yet the Torah says that it is just as important as refraining from eating on Yom Kippur or refraining from eating bread on Passover.
The reason why we perform mitzvoth is not to put on a show, it is to make ourselves a holy people.
4. The Rizhiner Rebbe uses the example of the stork to teach us that we must strive to help all those who are in need.
There is a bird called the Chasida, sounds almost like a chasid! Actually it is a stork and it is not even a kosher animal. The Gemara in Chulin 63a asks
why this bird gets such a wonderful name- pious one-
because it does kindness with it's fellows.
If this bird is so compassionate, then why isn't it kosher?
The Rizhiner Rebbe explains- it directs its kindness exclusively towards its fellows, but will not help other species. This is not a holy act. This is not an act that we want to emulate.
We learn from the chasida that it is not good enough to be kind to some. We must strive to help all who are in trouble. Some people just want to help their inner community, which is a good start. However, the goal, which the Hebrew Institute community is constantly trying to attain is to help as many people as possible, with different backgrounds, strengths and limitations right here in our community, in Israel and wherever the help is needed. We must continue to put our energy into these worthwhile projects.
What we have learned this morning is that keeping kosher is not just about what we eat or don't eat. The laws of kashrut can actually be a recipe to follow which can bring holiness into every aspect of our lives. In order to become holy, we must be conscious of the following guidelines and incorporate them into our daily lives:
- be merciful, not cruel,
- work together as a communiy in performing the mitzvot,
- be as scrupulous in observing the private mitzvoth as we are about performing the public mitzvoth and
- continue to strive to help all those who are in need.
If we, as a community, work together to follow these guidelines then we will live up to G-d's expectations, we will become an Am Kadosh L'Hashem Elokecha, A holy, separate and sanctified nation.