This week, we read my favorite portion of the Torah. It is not the Ten Commandments, or the account from Exodus of our ancestors’ miraculous escape from Egypt. It is not the story of Abraham or even the Jews entering Israel. My favorite portion is where G-d tells us to be like Him by keeping the laws of kosher. Allow me to explain:
I have lived in Louisville all of my life except for my school years, when I studied to become a rabbi. I have worked in many different areas within the Jewish community, but the position that I most enjoy is with Kentucky Kosher, which promotes and encourages kosher observance within the state of Kentucky and beyond.
In the writings of the Kabbalah, kosher is not specifically about being healthy or any type of original hygiene regulations. Instead, kosher is a spiritual diet aimed at keeping our souls in good health and spiritually sensitive to G-d. Just as fatty foods are bad for cholesterol levels in our bodies, non-kosher food is bad for the spiritual levels of our souls. As saturated fat may clog our arteries and not allow our blood to circulate, so too, non-kosher food can clog our spiritual arteries and prevent healthy Jewish feelings from growing within us. Many diets can build healthy bodies. A kosher diet builds a healthy soul.
Kosher animals must have split hooves and chew their cud. Kosher birds must have a “tradition” of being known to be kosher. Kosher fish must have scales and fins.
These concepts are explained from a deeper perspective in the Kabbalah. The bottom of an animal’s foot has a hoof. It is what separates the foot from the ground, sort of like a shoe for a person. The kosher hoof must be split. Every step must contain at least a little spirituality as we make our way through life.
Chewing the cud reminds us to think before we act. We must not do whatever feels best at the moment, but think and rethink and think again. The Kabbalah calls this concept having our minds rule over our hearts and only then may we do that which the mind determines to be best.
There are signs of a kosher bird, but signs are not enough. It must be known to be kosher. In other words, logic is not always enough. We must stay connected to tradition and the lessons of our history.
In regard to fish the Torah tells us there are two signs – scales and fins. But the Talmud teaches a most interesting lesson: “All fish that have scales also have fins and are kosher, but there are fish that have fins and no scales. Those are not kosher” (Nida 51b).
Here again, the Kabbalah lets us in on the deeper understanding of this law. Namely, scales represent integrity that protects us as we “swim” through life. Fins represent ambition that propels us forward. Ambition without integrity is not kosher. But if we maintain a sense of integrity at all times, then ambition and success will surely follow.
By keeping kosher, we can become holy, not only during prayer or when involved in some spiritual act, but even in the most basic human endeavor of eating food.
If anyone would like more information about kosher or help in koshering their kitchen or on kosher products available at various locations throughout our state, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• • •
Candles should be lit for Shabbat on Fridays, April 24 at 8:09 p.m., May 1 at 8:16 p.m., May 8 at 8:22 p.m. and May 22 at 8:35 p.m.; for Shavuot on Saturday, May 23, after 9:39 p.m. and Sunday, May 24, after 9:40 p.m.; and for Shabbat on Friday, May 29, at 8:40 p.m.
• • •
Editor’s note: Rabbi Chaim Litvin, a local emissary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, has volunteered to provide Torah commentaries for Community.