Kosher Humans

Thursday, 17 August, 2017 - 2:17 pm

Dear Friends,

What makes a human being Kosher? Now, have no fear; I am not advocating cannibalism. I am talking about what makes us “palatable” as people to G-d and our fellow humans.

Every aspect of Torah law has multiple layers of application, ranging from the most straight-forward “how to” aspect to a deeper level of application in the psyche and character of the human being. In this week’s Torah portion we are given the identifying signs of what makes animals Kosher for Jewish consumption. Regarding land animals we are instructed to determine whether the animal has split hooves and chews its cud.

Chassidus explains that these are not random identifying signs that could have just as well been something else, such as a protrusion of the fourth right rib. Rather these signs are significant in and of themselves. To appreciate this let us examine how we would apply these ideas on the deeper – human character level.

Humans are also animals in the sense that we are (at least partially) earthly beings that engage with the physicality and materiality of the world. This is represented by the hoof or foot, which interfaces with the earth. In our engaging the world we recall that it is for a higher purpose – the purpose for which we were placed here by Hashem, namely to make this world a G-dly place. In doing so, we run the risk of getting caught up in the process and becoming subsumed into the materiality. Instead of transforming the world, we become transformed by the world. How do we ensure that this does not occur? By having a split hoof. The gap that runs from the front all the way through to the back of the hoof is the space through which G-dliness can enter, thereby elevating the foot and the whole body.

In interpersonal relations, the gap represents the humility that is our openness to the opinions of others. We may not agree but at least we are open to considering them.

What about chewing cud? That’s an easy one to explain. Rumination is good not just for grass or chewing gum, it is also valuable for decisions. It is always important to consider whether what I am about to decide is appropriate – whether it is what G-d wants of us. The same applies to words and messages that we convey. Our sages teach that the tongue is protected by two gateways, the teeth and the lips. Before opening each gateway it behooves us to consider whether we should be saying what we are about to say. If only technology had such protections. Before you delete a file the computer asks whether you are sure you want to delete it. Perhaps they should consider asking that question before every email is sent, before a Facebook update is posted, and before a sentiment is tweeted (or retweeted). Don’t we all know some folks who might benefit from that? How many friendships were destroyed, relationships wrecked or careers ruined by a careless send or post. Imagine if they would just chew their cud?

So let’s open the pantry of our mind and psyche and make sure that everything in there is Kosher!

On behalf of Chabad of Louisiana I would like to welcome Arnie Fielkow back to New Orleans as he assumes his new role, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans. We have enjoyed a wonderful friendship and working relationship with Arnie that began through his friendship with my late colleague, Dr. David Kaufmann. We wish Arnie much success and we look forward in working with him for the betterment of our New Orleans Jewish community.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


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