Torah Tidbits with Rabbi Peretz Laine

Rabbi Peretz Laine, Judaic Studies Teacher

Am I Kosher?

The Torah teaches us that a Kosher animal can be identified by two characteristics: (1) that it chews its cud and (2) that it has split hooves. There is a debate whether the two signs are inherent signs of purity and thus cause the animal to be kosher, or whether they are signs that are not inherently related to purity but merely serve as indicators to identify kosher animals.

There are multiple indications in Jewish law that the signs themselves have an inherent connection with purity and cause the animal to be kosher. Additionally, there is an indication for this premise in the text of this week’s Torah portion.

When the Torah lists the camel, which only has one of the signs, the Torah says that it may not be eaten “because although it chews its cud it does not, however, have a completely split hoof.” The wording in the verse, specifically the word “because,” indicates that the lack of the split hoof is the reason and the cause for its impurity and as a result it is not kosher for consumption. In contrast, there is a third sign not mentioned in the Torah that can be used as an indication that an animal is kosher and that is when the animal has two horns, one on each side of the head. Perhaps the Torah does not mention this sign because it is not an inherent sign of purity but merely an indicator.

What lesson can we learn from this that these signs are not merely indicators that help us identify kosher animals, but instead are causes of purity?

The Torah commands the Jewish people to be a holy people. Perhaps we can achieve this by implementing these signs in our lives as well. In order to do this, we must understand the inner meaning of these signs.

First, let us examine the characteristic of the split hoof. According to Jewish law, the split in the hoof must be all the way through, from the top of the hoof to the bottom. Accordingly, this split allows something that is on top of the animal’s foot to pass through its foot and reach the ground.

What this means for us is that we too must leave room for that which is above our foot to reach the ground. The ground represents our worldly matters: making a living, pursuing a career, etc.  Our foot represents the means we use to obtain our livelihood and our other worldly and material matters. (Just as our actual foot is the body part that has a direct connection with the actual ground.) To have a “split hoof” means to leave a gap to allow G-dliness and Torah, the loftier matters in our life, to enter the mundanity of our lives. G-dliness and Torah should not be left in Shul or the Beit Midrash, rather they should accompany us as we deal with our physical matters as well. But unlike the animal, we are not born with this characteristic. Hashem requires us to earn, not merely to receive. Accordingly, we must take conscious steps to bring Torah and G-dliness into the ordinary and worldly aspects of our lives.  

Now, let us examine what it means to chew our cud. For an animal to chew its cud means that it chews its food, swallows it, regurgitates it, chews it, swallows it again, and repeats this process several times. What this means for us is that when we approach our food—our physical and worldly necessities and pursuits—we must constantly check and ask ourselves questions like: is this an appropriate pursuit? Is this step that I’m about to take a step in the right direction or the wrong direction? Will this action strengthen my connection with Hashem or perhaps weaken it? Asking these sorts of questions once is not enough, we must chew our cud, we must ask ourselves these questions repeatedly.

May we implement these signs in our lives and continue to serve Hashem, but in an even better way than we have until now.

Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Peretz Laine
Judaic Studies Teacher