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Va'eira(Exodus 6:2-9:35)

Va'eira 5762

GOOD MORNING!  In this day and age, most Jews do not keep Kosher. Why not? Is it because we are more knowledgeable than our forbearers the past 3,000 years? Do we know what they knew, weighed the information and concluded that keeping Kosher is out? Or, was it a slide away from observance over the years and over the generations due to getting along in a modern world? I am betting that 99.9% of us will answer - if we are truthful - that it's the latter case. We don't know what our ancestors knew and we are comfortable doing what we are doing.

What could possibly motivate us to keep Kosher? Well, if we really knew that there is a God who gave us the Torah and that we have a covenant with Him to keep the Torah (which includes Kashruth!) -- it would probably motivate some people. Then again, I can hear the response -- "What? You want me to buy new dishes, pots and pans ... and two sets? Are you nuts? Do you realize how difficult it would be to keep Kosher? The changes to my kitchen and to my lifestyle?" Everything in life has a cost. The only question is if one believes that the payoff is worth the investment. A person is going to do what a person wants to do.

What if keeping Kosher would help ensure that your children marry someone Jewish and that you would have Jewish grandchildren? Would that be motivating? What if it were healthier, enhanced spirituality, increased personal discipline, inculcated moral values? Would that intrigue you to look further? Perhaps the following benefits from and understandings of keeping Kosher will be food for thought:

  1. Hygienic: There are many laws that promote health. The Torah forbids eating animals that died without proper slaughter and the draining of the blood (which is a medium for the growth of bacteria). It also forbids eating animals that have abscesses in their lungs or other health problems. Shellfish, mollusks, lobsters (and yes, stone crabs) which have spread typhoid and are a source for urticara (a neurotic skin affliction) are not on the diet. Milk and meat digest at an unequal rate and are difficult for the body; they are forbidden to be eaten together. Birds of prey are not Kosher - tension and hormones produced might make the meat unhealthy.

  2. Moral Lessons: We are taught a sensitivity to feelings - even to the feelings of animals. A mother and her young are forbidden to be slaughtered on the same day and "a kid (goat) is not to be seethed in its mother's milk." We are also instructed to forbid cruelty to animals. The Torah forbids removing the limb of an animal while it is still alive (a common practice before refrigeration). When we slaughter an animal, it must be done with the least possible pain; there is a special knife that is so sharp that even the slightest nick in the blade renders it non-permissible. This prevents pain to the animal. And we are reminded not to be vicious by the prohibition to eat birds of prey which are vicious.

  3. National Reasons: We are a unique people, with a mission of Tikun Olom, repairing the world. We have a special diet to remind us of our mission and to keep us together as a people to fulfill it. Keeping Kosher puts up a barrier. Intermarriage is kind of hard when you have to take your non-Jewish date to a Kosher restaurant or if you go to a prospective mother-in-law's home and you won't eat her food.... Keeping Kosher is also a reminder of our gratitude to the Almighty for taking us out of Egypt; it's a symbol of the covenant between us and God (read Leviticus 11:45-47).

  4. Mystical: The Torah calls us a Holy People and prescribes a holy diet (read Deuteronomy 14:2-4). You are what you eat. Kosher is God's diet for spirituality. Jewish mysticism teaches that non-kosher food blocks the spiritual potential of the soul. Kosher animals properly slaughtered and prepared have more "sparks of holiness" (according to the Kabbalah) which are incorporated in our being.

  5. Discipline: If one can discipline himself in what and when he eats, he can discipline himself in other areas of life. Kashruth requires that one must wait after eating meat before eating milk products and may not eat certain animals or combinations of foods.

If you disagree with these understandings and benefits, you would likely be able to find in history some great rabbi who was on your side. But that same rabbi would agree with every other great rabbi that the real reason we eat Kosher is because God commanded us to do so in the Torah He gave to the Jewish people and that we, the Jewish people, bound ourselves to God in a covenant to keep the commandments of that Torah.

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.

The prime directive of the Torah is that the Almighty does not want us to become neurotics. If one wants to upgrade his observance of the Torah, he must do it in intelligent, calculated steps. Just as a parent loves the first steps of his toddler, the Almighty treasures our steps towards fulfilling his Torah. Do what you can do with thoughts of doing even more. This is the sane approach in coming closer to the Almighty and fulfilling his commandments.


Torah Portion of the Week
Va'eira

Here begins the story of the Ten Plagues which God put upon the Egyptians not only to effect the release of the Jewish people from bondage, but to show the world that He is the God of all of creation and history. The first nine plagues are divisible into three groups: (1) the water turning to blood, frogs, lice (2) wild beasts, pestilence/epidemic, boils (3) hail, locust, and darkness.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains that these were punishments measure for measure for afflicting the Jewish people with slavery. The first of each group reduced Egyptians in their own land to the insecurity of strangers, the second of each group robbed them of pride, possessions and a sense of superiority; the third in each group imposed physical suffering.

 

Dvar Torah
based on LGrowth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah states, "And Moshe and Aharon did as the Almighty commanded them. So they did." (Exodus 7:6). Why does the Torah say "So they did" when they did not yet do what the Almighty commanded them to do? Only later would they approach Pharaoh on behalf of the Jewish people.

Rabbi Yosef Karo, author of the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Laws), comments that their sincere acceptance to do the Almighty's will is considered as if they actually followed through and took action.

Our lesson: When we sincerely plan to do a Mitzvah (commandment), feel the joy of doing it. Just planning without taking action will not accomplish very much. When we feel joy in positive planning, we will be motivated to take action. The joy of actually doing the Mitzvah will be even greater because of our anticipation of performing it. This joy is a manifestation of our appreciation of the opportunities to fulfill the Almighty's commandments and will increase the amount of Mitzvot we do.



CANDLE LIGHTING - January 11:
(or go to http://aish.com/candlelighting)

Jerusalem  4:18
Guatemala 5:32  Hong Kong 5:39  Honolulu 5:50
J'Burg 6:47  London 3:56  Los Angeles 4:45
Melbourne 8:27  Miami 5:31  Moscow 4:03
New York 4:31  Singapore  6:56



QUOTE OF THE WEEK:

The greatest mistake is:
fearing to make one.



With Special Thanks to
Rochelle Beck
for dedicating this edition

Published: January 5, 2002

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Visitor Comments: 3

(3) Anonymous, January 10, 2002 12:00 AM

How interesting!

I really enjoyed this dvar Torah! I liked the focus on keeping kosher.

(2) rachel noname, January 10, 2002 12:00 AM

this changed mylife

before this article I did not keep Kosher. THis article has convinced me to keep kosher.
Thank you

(1) Anniteh Shatz (Zahne), January 7, 2002 12:00 AM

A Kosher lifestyle is a respect for ourselves and all creation.

The Jewish people are meant to set an example as a people who respect ourselves, all creation, and everything that sustains us on our journey through life.

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