For the week ending 3 September 2016 / 30 Av 5776

Parshat Re'eh

by Rabbi Pinchas Kasnett
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One of the topics of this Torah portion is the Laws of Kashrut. Although this was already discussed in Parshat Shemini in Sefer Vayikra, Abarbanel explains some of the dimensions of these laws which he did not discuss previously.

The Torah introduces this section by saying, “You shall not eat anything abominable” (Devarim 14:3). The Torah does not mean that forbidden foods are inherently disgusting and repulsive to human nature. The Sifra on Vayikra makes it clear that a person should not say, “I don’t want to eat pork; rather it is something I desire, but my Father in Heaven has decreed against it” (Vayikra 20:26).

Abarbanel explains that the prevailing opinion that the main reason for the Kashrut laws is that the various animals, combinations of foods and methods of slaughter are inherently unhealthy is incorrect. If this were true the Kashrut section of the Torah would be reduced to a medical text and would take away from the lofty messages of the Divine Torah. If the Torah’s concern were only in regard to health, then cures and countermeasures could be found to obviate the necessity for these laws in the first place. Furthermore, it is obvious that the world’s non-Jews, who are free to eat these forbidden foods, are no less healthy than their Jewish counterparts, and in many cases are physically stronger.

Rather, these prohibitions are designed to protect the individual’s pure spiritual and intellectual dimension — his neshama (soul). Man’s physical nature and desires have a tendency to overcome his pure spirituality. Eating these foods contributes to this “spiritual blockage”. This is expressed clearly at the end of the Kashrut discussion in Parshat Shemini, “Do not contaminate your souls with creeping things of the ground and do not become ritually impure through them, because I am the L-rd, your G-d, Who sanctified you and made you holy, and you should be holy because I am holy” (Vayikra 11:43-44). The prohibited foods are never referred to as “harmful” or “unhealthy”. Rather, they are always referred to as “ritually impure” or “spiritually abominable”.

The concept of refraining from giving in to one’s physical desires and eating whatever one wishes is also alluded to in the phrase, “You are children to the L-rd, your G-d” (Devarim 14:1). This indicates that we are members of an important royal family, and must conduct ourselves accordingly. The commandment to refrain from eating any abomination immediately follows the prohibitions against the barbaric practice of the Amorite mourners who mutilated their bodies by cutting their flesh or tearing out the hair between their eyes: “For you are a holy people to the L-rd, your G-d, and G-d has chosen you for Himself to be a treasured people from among all the peoples on the face of the earth” (Devarim 14:1-2). By refraining from eating certain foods, even when they are not injurious and may even be beneficial to our physical health, keeps us constantly aware of our lofty status and unique responsibility to serve G-d.

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