Living Torah by Rabbi Ari Enkin

rabbi enkinThis week’s Torah portion is Shemini (Leviticus 9:1-11:47). The reading begins with the dedication of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. It then continues with the tragic story of the death of Aaron’s two sons, Nadav and Avihu. But more familiar to most people are the laws of Kashrut (the laws of Kosher) which find themselves in this week’s Torah reading, as well. This week I would like to focus on the laws of keeping a kosher diet.

There is much discussion among rabbis and scholars as to why God gave us the laws of keeping kosher. Many are of the opinion that the reason the Torah gave us all these rules about which animals we may and may not eat are based on health considerations. Everyone agrees that we need a strong body! And as the saying goes, “you are what you eat.” Food is nothing less than medicine: the rights foods will do you well, while the wrong ones will harm you. We need to be healthy for our families, our jobs, and even to serve God. Therefore, the Torah wants us to be strong, healthy, and holy. So perhaps, since it was widely believed that pork and shellfish are unhealthy, that is the reason why the Torah doesn’t want us to eat such animals.

However, I disagree with this approach.

The Torah says: “Speak to the children of Israel and tell them: these are the animals that can be eaten…”

kosher foodAs we can readily see, the Torah only commands the rules of Kashrut to the Jewish people. Non-Jews are completely entitled to enjoy whatever their heart’s desire: pig, lobster, horsemeat, octopus (a delicacy in Greece!), and much more. No problem whatsoever.

But wait a sec! If the rules of Kashrut were given for health reasons, then they would have been given to all mankind! God loves all mankind! God wants all of his creations to be happy and healthy and to serve Him with strength and vigor! He doesn’t want any human being eating dangerous or unhealthy foods. As such, there must be a deeper reason for the laws of Kashrut.

My interpretation: The laws of kashrut affect our soul. The Jewish soul is just different. Just like every person is different and every person has his own “allergies,” so too, the Jewish soul is “allergic” to these non-kosher foods. They have a negative spiritual impact on the development of the Jewish soul and they impede the Jew’s mission in this world, to serve as “a light among the nations.”

jewish dietSo if you’re Jewish: The Torah reading of Shemini is a good time to recommit yourselves to observing the laws of Kashrut. No, not because its healthier or tastier. And not because it’s the best diet out there. It’s simply the Jewish diet.

Shabbat Shalom from Israel!

Rabbi Ari Enkin