In this Shabbat’s Torah portion of Shemini (Leviticus 9:1–11:47), God introduces the laws of Kosher and identifies which animals are permissible and forbidden for consumption.
Land animals must have split hooves and chew their cud, and fish must have fins and scales. Insects, reptiles, amphibians, and worms are forbidden except for four types of locusts. Birds are permissible except for 24 non-Kosher species listed in this Torah portion.
These rules may seem outdated and difficult to observe; however, we can derive several meaningful and life-enriching lessons from the laws of keeping Kosher.
Forbidden animals tend to be predators and scavengers. Avoiding these animals reminds us to not emulate their negative character traits. Furthermore, science has upheld the famous motto, “You are what you eat” finding that we absorb beneficial and detrimental chemical nutrients which can affect our health and behavior
By following the laws of Kosher, we refine our conduct and differentiate ourselves from animals who take whatever they want. These laws are the ultimate lesson in self-control, which can be applied to many other aspects of our life.
Keeping Kosher reminds us of the importance of humility - that the world does not belong to us to do with as we please. The world belongs to God, and we can only benefit from what God has permitted us. As King David said, “The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it” (Psalm 24:1).
Ultimately, we keep Kosher because it is a divine commandment and as a result, this accomplishes two things: The mitzvah of Kosher connects us to God (the word mitzvah means “connection” and well as “commandment”). Keeping kosher also enables us to fulfill the precept of Tikkun Olam, repairing, or in Kabbalistic terminology, elevating the material world to a higher plane of spiritual existence.
Yes, keeping kosher has its challenges (especially when traveling). However, the spiritual and moral benefits far outweigh any difficulties.
Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz