|This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of Rabbi’s, Baruch Dopelt, Yossi Bilus,
Rabbi Noach Isaac Oelbaum, Asher Hurzberg, Tanya chapters 7-8
I remember when M&M’s, Snickers and Milky Ways received their kosher OU certification. Those were the classic candy bars we ate as kids. Our teachers and parents informed us soon after that those beloved chocolates were not kosher. I must say we were deeply disappointed; for a child that was my biggest test. I remember saying “G-d All Mighty, what’s a kid supposed to eat? Hard candy?” Many years later, when I was in my 30’s it was announced that those candy/chocolate bars got an “OU dairy”. I felt liberated. That day, I remember buying, proudly, a pack of M&M’s and marching down the station to catch the F train to go home from work and to my pleasant surprise seeing another Jew with a Yarmulke holding an M&M pack grinning at me. Without hesitating twice, my response was the famous M&M’S commercial slogan: “It melts in your mouth, not your hands.”
Kashrut is a Biggy in Judaism. A very big deal. As my father once said to me, and he had no idea that I would end up becoming a Rabbi, “Don’t ever go into kashrut, it’s a dirty business.” Where did this come from? My grandfather was a Shochet – ritual slaughterer. He had a colleague who, like himself, was a Shochet and was in fact threatened with his life by the store owner to give a certification for a non-kosher animal. This took place in the early 1900 in Samarkand. My friends were not surprised, when I retold this story for they too heard something similar that occurred in their own community’s historic past.
How low can people get to sell their soul for money? How can you be the cause of making others eat non-kosher? The only reason we can give is that it happens to be a lot of money and when there is money at stake people lose themselves. Don’t be mistaken, I know there are many very honest and hardworking people in the Kashrut industry. I must commend every Rabbi, every mashgiach, and every kashrut organization for its near impossible task. The kashrut business is tough and carries a very big responsibility. The temptation is great and the sin is also great. Even if one only eats non-kosher because he thinks it is kosher there are still great repercussions. Why?
In life there is luxury and necessity. Food, it’s a necessity. Ever notice that when one is feeling down and out and the whole world seems like it’s caving in, that if one were to consume even a slight portion of food, within minutes they are like a new person. The confidence is back; the strength is re-captured, and the color is back on the face
Food can be your best friend or your worst enemy. Everything has to be measured; we have to be careful not to skip meals, ignore body cues, and especially not eat when we’re full, because it’s there, it’s so good, or because it’s left on their child’s plate. Oops! Down the hatch it goes. We have to be mindful, and mindful eating comes with an awareness of tastes, textures, smells.
After a certain age we have to be careful; we have to be additionally mindful how much goes in to the tank. There is Blood Type Diet, Fit for Life, The Carbohydrate Addict’s Diet, vegetarian, vegan etc. How many of us have been on and off carbs, on and off proteins? How many have gorged on fruits and vegetables?
Food can also be a delicacy. When it comes to the consumption of food we Jews have some of the best kitchens. We like to eat. Some of us are obsessed with Shabbat Kiddushs; they are obsessed with getting the right caterers for their happy occasions. Meissner’s meatballs, Mealmart’s pastrami in mustard sauce, Romania’s Deli in Chicago; I can go on and on. Bottom line, the Jewish food industry is thriving and its big business a very big business.
It could have been even bigger business, except one little obstruction stands in the way. Kashrut.
The laws of kosher food are introduced to the Jewish people in this week’s Parsha. All the commandments must be performed if for no other reason than because God has commanded us. However, the Torah concludes its presentation of dietary laws with a strict warning of another reason not to partake of “taref.” “Do not contaminate yourselves through them lest you become contaminated through them” [Ch. 11, verse 43]
Messilat Yesharim explains: “Forbidden food brings impurity into the heart and soul of a person–literally–until God distances Himself from the one who ate them… Forbidden foods are worse than other sins because they actually enter a person’s body and become a part of his flesh.”
In more contemporary terms: “You are what you eat!” When Moshe was rescued from the Nile by Pharaoh’s daughter, he would not nurse from the Egyptian women. Rashi explains that the mother’s milk has in it the elements of the food’s she has consumed, therefore Moshe, who was to converse with God, could not partake of such impurity. Mother’s milk, which is merely a byproduct of what she has eaten, has in it the potential “dull the heart and instill a bad nature in the infant.”[Rama/Yoreh Deah 81:7]
Now we understand the problem with eating non-kosher food, even if you’re under a false impression. But how does it dull the soul?
First let’s examine why food is spiritually important. Whether it be holidays, Shabbat or for that matter, every time we eat we have a chance to elevate our souls to a higher realm. Let’s take an example.
One famous time of the year where certain foods shine is Rosh Hashana, for it protects us for the entire year. On Rosh Hashanah, a traditional practice is to eat simanim, or symbolic foods, in order to symbolize good things for the future. How does it work? Can it really benefit us?
The origin of eating simanim can be found in the Talmudic discussion of omens (Horayot 12a; Keritot 6a). Abayei comments that since “simana milta” that is, “omens are of significance,” a person should make it a practice to “see” [other texts state to “eat”] five specific symbolic foods at the Rosh Hashanah table.
Interestingly, on Tu b’Shevat we have a tradition to eat fruit. The fruits repairs one’s eating for the entire year, so much so, that our eating can become like that of Adam and Eve before their spiritual fall (Pri Tzadik, Parashat Beshalach). Since their spiritual fall and contraction came about through impulsively eating from a tree, we can create a spiritual elevation and expansion by eating fruits in mindfulness and holiness.
We are capable of expanding holiness into the realm of pleasure because the source of our souls is located in the lofty ‘Ta’anug/ Divine pleasure’. (Noam Elimelech, Parashat Shemot) The Shabbat Aravit prayer calls us an ‘am medushnei oneg” or a “people saturated with delight.” Each of us is capable of this ecstatic delight, even amid our worldly needs and concerns. Thus, it’s important to enjoy what you eat.
Another food which has tremendous spiritual benefit is Matzah. Matzot are baked quickly, in an effort to overcome the influences and limitations of time. We bake flat, crisp matzah in order to reenact the Exodus, when the Children of Israel fled Egypt in a hurry, as the Torah says: “You shall eat matzot during seven days…bread of suffering, for you departed Egypt in great haste.” This mitzvah teaches that God’s control of nature and history is above and beyond the constraints and limitations of time. God does not require cause and effect. He does not need time in order to accomplish His goals. On Passover, we too must emulate God and become creative spiritually by hurrying time, by acting with zeal and speed, by living life beyond time, in partnership with God who is above time and is timeless. We respond to God’s Will by acting in defiance of nature, by breaking the limits imposed by time and nature.
ONE SHOULD ALWAYS HAVE FOOD ON HIS TABLE
Rabbi Yesa opened and said the following about the verse (Exodus 25:23), “You shall make a Table of acacia wood…”. This table stands inside the Tabernacle and a supernal blessing dwells upon it. From it emerges food for the whole world, and this table should not be empty even for one moment. There should be food on it, because the blessing is not present in an empty place. Therefore, bread must constantly be on it, in order that the supernal blessing shall always be present in it. And from that table, blessing and food come out to all the other tables of the world, for they are blessed due to it.
The table of every person has to be before him at the time that he blesses G-d in order that the blessing from above should dwell upon it and should not appear empty. For the blessings from above do not dwell in an empty place, as it is written: “Tell me, what have you in the house?” (II Kings 4:2)
THE SPIRITUAL ABC OF FOOD
When a person has a craving, a hunger for bread, this is but a reflection of his soul’s craving for the Divine utterance that is the “soul” of the bread, which the human being “redeems” by utilizing the energy he or she derives from the food towards a G-dly purpose.
There is a deep meaning of the verse (Psalms 107:5): “The hungry and thirsty, in them does their soul envelope itself.” A person desiring food may sense only his body’s hunger. In truth, however, “enveloped within” his physical hunger and thirst is his soul’s hunger for the “soul” of the food — the “sparks of holiness” within it which it is his mission to redeem.
The great Kabbalist, Rabbi Isaac Luria (the “Ari”, 1534-1572) taught that every created thing possesses a “spark” of divine energy that constitutes its essence and soul. When a person utilizes something toward a G-dly end, he brings to light this divine spark displaying it and realizing the purpose for which it was created. In all physical substances, a material “husk” (kelipah) encases and conceals the divine spark at its core, causing great effort on the part of man to access the spark. But accessing the spark is crucial for the one eating the food and for the world. The world gains a spiritual force.
No existence is free from a divine spark — certainly, nothing can exist without the spark of G-dliness that infuses it with being and purpose. But not every spark can be actualized. There are certain “solid” elements whose sparks are inaccessible to us. The fact that something is forbidden by the Torah means that its husk cannot be penetrated, so that its spark remains locked within it and cannot be elevated.
Thus, one who eats a piece of kosher meat and then uses the energy gained from it to perform a mitzvah, thereby elevates the spark of divinity that is the essence of the meat, freeing it of its mundane embodiment and raising it to a state of fulfilled spirituality. However, if one would do the same with a piece of non-kosher meat, no such “elevation” would take place. Even if he applied the energy to positive and G-dly ends, this would not constitute a realization of the divine purpose in the meat’s creation, since the consumption of the meat was an express violation of the divine will.
This is the deeper significance of the Hebrew terms assur and mutar used by Torah law for the forbidden and the permissible. Assur, commonly translated as “forbidden,” literally means “bound”, implying that these are things whose sparks the Torah has deemed bound and imprisoned in a shell of negativity and constrained. Mutar (“permitted”), which literally means “unbound,” is the term for those sparks which the Torah has empowered us to disengage from their mundane embodiment and actively involve in our positive undertaking.
The “bound” elements of creation also have a role in the realization of the divine purpose outlined by the Torah. But their role is a “negative” role – they exist so that we should achieve a conquest of self by resisting them. “I will not eat” – this is a commandment to not do something. There is no Torah-authorized way in which they can actively be involved in our development of creation, no way in which they may themselves become part of the “dwelling for G-d” that we is charged to make of our world. Of these elements it is said, “Their breaking is their rectification.” Whether it be McDonalds, Burger King, they exist to be rejected and defeated, and it is in their defeat and exclusion from our lives that their purpose is realized.
But by eating kosher one enhances spirituality in himself. He makes use of the spark that is incorporated in the food therefore releasing the food from its mundane status and it too is spiritually elevated. So we see this is one of the sources of spirituality, “food”‘.
We learn a valuable lesson about priorities from non-other than Avraham Avinu, our forefather. Avraham was a very rich man. It says G-d blessed Avraham “BA’KOL”, with everything. One should always have loyal people working for you. Avraham had his faithful servant Eliezer by his side. The verse states about Eliezer “HAMOSHEL” – he was in charge of all of Avraham’s possessions. Avraham, as the pasuk seemingly implies, trusted Eliezer wholeheartedly. However, peculiarly and, for the most part, very out of character when it came to finding a mate for his son Yitzchak Avraham made Eliezer swear that he will go down and find him a girl as he specifically instructed. What happened to the loyalty? What happened to the trusted servant that you rely on and have faith with all your possessions?
The answer is simple. Granted Avraham had complete trust in Eliezer when it came to financial matters. However when it came to matchmaking, finding a wife, the spiritual essence of the future of Israel, that’s different!!! That is separate from the money. That is faith and there, one has to raise the stakes.
Kashrut is separate then money, it’s the spiritual essence of the Jewish people. We have to have reliable certificates on the food we eat. We have to trust the people in charge to take all the precautions that will enable them not to tempted by greed, the mighty dollar.