GOOD MORNING! This past year I visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. Being hungry, I stopped at the cafeteria and asked if they had kosher food. The lady behind the counter replied, "Yes, we have some wrapped and sealed sandwiches, but we have lots of kosher-like food." I bought a sandwich and over lunch thought about her statement. Then it hit me -- "kosher-like" is similar to "life-like." What is "life-like"? It is really not alive, it just looks alive. What is "kosher-like"? It is really not kosher, it just "looks" kosher.
It is interesting that one Midrash (commentary) states that we can learn a lesson in life from pigs. They lie on the ground with their feet protruding showing the cleft hooves as if to say, "Look at me, I am kosher." (There are two signs that an animal must have to be kosher -- to have cleft hooves and to ruminate, chew its cud. The pig has only one sign, the split hooves and thus is not kosher.) There is a subtle -- or not so subtle -- lesson that we must not judge by appearances, but by the facts and by reality.
Most Jews today do not observe Kashruth (Jewish dietary laws). More than likely if you ask someone who doesn't keep kosher why the Torah has dietary laws, he'll tell you the reason is that Moses didn't have the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) supervision to ensure healthy meat and that the pigs don't have trichinosis.
It is an interesting explanation, but it doesn't explain why fish have to have scales and fins, why fruit from trees can't be eaten before the fourth year, why animals must be slaughtered in a certain manner and all blood removed from the meat, why meat and milk are not to be mixed, why shellfish, insects and other creepy-crawlers of land and sea as well as birds of prey (not pray) and milk from a non-kosher animal are forbidden. The laws of Kashruth cover the depth and breadth of the food chain.
Perhaps the most revealing response to those who maintain that Kashruth is for health is to look at the traditional staples of Jewish cuisine -- chopped liver, grivines (fried chicken skin), cholent (a Shabbat stew). A food can be Kosher and a first class ticket to a heart attack!
In all discussions in life it is important to have two things before coming to a conclusion -- definitions and the facts. If we don't define our terms, we waste a lot of time before clarifying what were talking about. If we don't have the facts, we can end up looking foolish. So, why do Jews keep kosher?
There are only two reasons why Jews for thousands of years have kept kosher: We have believed since time immemorial: (1) There is a God who created the world, sustains and supervises it. And we have believed since our experience at Mt. Sinai during the 40 years in the desert: (2) God entered into a covenant with the Jewish people and gave us the Torah which we are therefore obligated to uphold and fulfill the commandments in it. The Jewish dietary laws are a part of that covenant.
If you are curious to understanding why we believe in God and why we believe that God gave us the same Torah as we have now, I suggest Permission to Believe and Permission to Receive by Lawrence Keleman. If you want to know more about Kashruth, I recommend The Kosher Kitchen by Rabbi Ze'ev Greenwald; it is a user-friendly, practical and illustrated guide that eliminates the mystery and confusion. All three books are available from your local Jewish book store or by calling toll-free 877-758-3242.
Yes, there are many benefits of keeping kosher (even some health ones!) However, these are benefits and not reasons. The Torah wants us to use our intellect and to understand to the best of our ability the mitzvot, the commandments, that the Almighty has given us. Next week I will delve into some of the benefits and understandings of keeping Kosher.
Portion of the Week
This week's portion tells a story often repeated throughout history: The Jews become prominent and numerous. There arises a new king in Egypt "who did not know Joseph" (meaning he chose not to know Joseph or recognize any debt of gratitude). He proclaims slavery for the Jewish people "lest they may increase so much, that if there is war, they will join our enemies and fight against us, driving (us) from the land." (Anti-Semitism can thrive on any excuse; it need not be logical or real --check out our online seminar "Why the Jews?" at http://www.aish.com/seminars/anti-semitism/index.html . It's spectacular!)
Moshe (Moses) is born and immediately hidden because of the decree to kill all male Jewish babies. Moses is saved by Pharaoh's daughter, grows up in the royal household, goes out to see the plight of his fellow Jews. He kills an Egyptian who was beating a Jew, escapes to Midian when the deed becomes known, becomes a shepherd, and then is commanded by God at the Burning Bush to "bring My people out of Egypt." Moses returns to Egypt, confronts Pharaoh who refuses to give permission for the Israelites to leave. And then God says, "Now you will begin to see what I will do to Pharaoh!"
based on Love Your Neighbor by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
The Torah states, "And it came to pass in those days that Moshe grew up and he went out to his brothers, and looked on their burdens; and he saw an Egyptian smiting a Hebrew, one of his brothers." Why does the Torah use "brothers" rather than "Hebrews" at the beginning of the verse and at the end of the verse specify that the Hebrew was "one of his brothers"? We already know that Moshe was a fellow Hebrew.
Rashi cites the Midrash (Shemot Rabbah 1) which tells us that Moshe set his eyes and heart to be grieved for his brothers. The Midrash is telling us that Moshe chose to look at his fellow Hebrews as his brothers.
The Jewish people were enslaved in Egypt, and Moshe, adopted by the daughter of Pharaoh, grew up in the royal palace surrounded by luxury. He personally was saved from the suffering and anguish experienced by the rest of his people and benefited from the opulence of his surroundings. Herein lies Moshe's greatness! He could have forsaken his people and chosen a life of material comfort; instead, he went out among his people and "set his eyes and heart to be grieved for them." He did not merely feel sympathy for their plight and then forget them. He intentionally went out of his way to feel the pain of their suffering to the degree that he could feel his own. This, says the Midrash, was what merited Moshe the right to the leadership of the Jewish people and to be chosen as the emissary who receive the Torah at Mount Sinai.
Moshe also cared about each individual. When he saw that one of his brethren was in mortal danger, he risked his life and gave up his privileged status as a member of the royal family to save him.
We must learn from Moshe to care about the suffering of others and to take action to alleviate it -- even if it means sacrificing our personal pleasure!
CANDLE LIGHTING - January 4:
(or go to http://aish.com/candlelighting)
Guatemala 5:28 Hong Kong 5:20 Honolulu 5:45
J'Burg 6:46 London 3:47 Los Angeles 4:39
Melbourne 8:28 Miami 5:26 Moscow 3:53
New York 4:24 Singapore 6:38
QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
You can't do a kindness too soon...
you never know when it'll be too late.
In Memory of