FedTalks Parshas Shemini (Poroh) – Rabbi D Kirsch – Transcript
It’s a wonderful opportunity as we return each year to the laws of Kashrut, keeping kosher home, keeping a kosher lifestyle, to remind ourselves exactly what we mean by the terminology “kosher”. I reminded that shortly after I finished my college course, before I started my rabbinics, I was in the world of work in business. I was invited to meet a prospective client and as is normal in the non-Jewish world, he invited me. “Would you like to join me for something to eat?”. I declined. “No, it’s fine, it’s lunchtime. I’m happy for you to.” I declined again. “Why don’t you want to eat with me?”. “I am on a diet”. “You’re on a diet? But you look fine. What sort of diet is this?”, to which I responded: “I am on a kosher diet”, hoping that would satisfy his questions and I’d be able to move on. He was so excited, he looked at me and said “You’re on a kosher diet? Does that mean you’re a kosher Jew?” My mind raced. What is it a kosher Jew- have the split hooves and chew the cod, fins and scales, creepy crawlies? What exactly is a kosher Jew? What do you mean by that? To which he answered: “Does that mean that you’re kosher in and kosher out?”. “Excuse me?”. “Yes, I have done business over the years with Jewish people and many of them are quite adamant about having kosher food at home, but sadly when they’re in the business world and they’re out, they didn’t always keep the high standards of kashrut. But now I am meeting a Jew who is kosher and kosher out, perhaps I can ask you a few questions about what kashrut is all about.”
And that got me thinking and each parshas Shemini we return to the question: what do we mean by kosher? Kosher in, kosher out, I am a kosher Jew? Fascinatingly, if you look at the language which is used in the verses in this week’s sedra, we see that a language of tahara, purity, referring to kosher animals, and tomeh when referring to animals which are not kosher. We talk about shkotzim and shrotzim. Shkotzim, referring to animals which are despicable and not able to be eaten. Those little creepy crawlies, small little vermin. What does that language tell us about keeping kosher? Tomeh, impure.
Says Rabbi Samson Refoel Hirsch in his brilliant work Chorev: if we consider that language, we consider that to be the language of temple, that seemed to be the language of holiness. In fact, in this week’s parsha, it says, “ki ani Hashem hamaleh eschem me’eretz Mitzrayim lihyos lochem le’Elokim”- “I am the G-d that you took you out of Egypt to be your G-d”. And the very next verse in the sedra tells us “zos toras habehemo veof”. There is something to do with sanctity and holiness, directly connected to the animals that we eat and can’t eat.
A Kohen becomes impure, becomes tomeh when he is unable to work in the temple. He consumes food that he cannot consume, we consume food that we cannot consume and the title of those foods is tomeh, impure.
Says Rabbi Hirsch in a general observation: the job of us Jews is to a “mamleches kohanim vegoy kodosh”- a kingdom of priests and a very holy nation. And for each one of us we need to realise that what we consume is holy or not holy food. Is pure, spiritually pure, or spiritually contaminated. And like the temple and the priests working in the temple, we have to realise that our very own body is a temple in itself. Who we are and what we stand for, what we become and the character developments, may well be defined by the very food that we eat.
Spiritually speaking, keeping kosher defines us as Jews. Physically speaking, keeping kosher defines us as Jews.
A “mamleches kohanim vegoy kodosh”- a truly holy nation.