Torah Minute with Rav Yaakov – Parshat Shemini

This week, parshat Shemini discusses the differences between kosher and non-kosher animals, concluding with the pasuk, “To distinguish between the unclean and the clean and between the animals that may be eaten and the animals you may not eat.” (Vayikra 11:47)

At first glance, this pasuk seems a redundant conclusion to a parsha all about making these distinctions. But according to the commentary Sforno, this verse actually shows us the reason behind the laws of kashrut: to teach us to distinguish between the prohibited and permitted. This might seem like circular logic, but what Sforno means is that the Torah is teaching us that the act of making these distinctions is itself a holy act.

Eating is just about the most physical activity one can engage in: you eat food, your body is satisfied, you have the strength and nutrition to go about your day. But as humans, we are more than just physical, instinctive creatures; we have a spiritual dimension designed to elevate every physical act we engage in to the level of holiness. This week’s parsha teaches us that the act of eating can itself be a spiritual experience. By placing our material needs within a larger structure of kashrut, eating becomes an expression of oneness with God rather than a purely physical function. The act of distinguishing between what is kosher and what is not transforms our eating into a special moment of spiritual intentionality (this is not to mention the added dimension of saying blessings over our food before and after eating as well!).

Thinking about this makes me look forward to the meals we will share in the Cheder Ochel at camp. As this will be my first summer I have yet to personally experience this, but everyone has been telling me how much the singing, the community, the whole atmosphere of everyone coming together elevate each meal, every single day. Each person’s intentionality transforms the simple act of eating a meal in a cafeteria into a special klal Yisrael experience. I can’t wait to share these meals with you all!

Questions for the Shabbat Table:

  • In what ways do you make distinctions or conscious decisions with regard to what you eat?
  • Aside from eating, what do you think could be other seemingly mundane actions that you can elevate to a spiritual level?

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