Weekly Manna – Shemini

Parsha Shemini

After a lengthy discussion about the details of the sanctuary, we find a list of animals, fish and birds that are permitted or forbidden to be consumed as food.  What is the connection of the dietary laws and the sanctuary?

Rabbi Elie Munk teaches that the sanctuary was a human counterpart of the cosmos.  He also reminds us that the first command given to the first human was a dietary law.

“And Hashem commanded the man, saying, ‘of every tree of the garden you are free to eat; but as for the tree of knowledge of good and bad, you must not eat of it; for as soon as you eat of it, you shall die.” (Bereishis 2:16-17)

Rabbi Sacks explains that the Talmud compares G-d’s joy on seeing the sanctuary completed with His joy when He created the heaven and earth. The parallels are actually remarkable:

The universe is the home G-d made for man; the Sanctuary is the home man made for G-d.

“So then, so now, a new era in the spiritual history of humankind, preceded by an act of creation, is marked by laws about what one may and may not eat.” (R’ J. Sacks, Covenant & Conversations)

This confirms that there is indeed a major connection between the sanctuary and the dietary laws.  Let’s look a little closer at the warnings in this week’s sidra, pertaining to what one consumes:

“You shall not draw abomination upon yourselves through anything that swarms; you shall not make yourselves unclean therewith and thus become unclean.   For I Hashem am your G-d: you shall not make yourselves unclean through any swarming thing that moves upon the earth.  For I Hashem am He who brought you up  from the land of Egypt to be your G-d: you shall be holy, for I am holy.  These are the instructions concerning animals, birds, all living creatures that move in water, and all creatures that swarm on earth, for distinguishing between the unclean and the clean, between the living things that may be eaten and the living things that may not be eaten.” (Vayiqra 11:43-47)

Apparently, through the food we chose to consume, we are actually choosing whether or not we draw abomination upon ourselves.  We can make ourselves unclean through the act of eating.  And that which is unclean is not allowed to be anywhere near the Presence of Hashem!

R’ Sacks explains that eating and sex are the two most primal activities we humans share with the animals.  Without sex between a male and a female there is no continuation of a species.  And without food, even the individual cannot survive.  He goes on to explain that there are two ways most of the world views food and sex.  One part of humanity emphasizes the body alone, seeing food and sex as a means of pleasure.  What one desires and lusts after, one pursues.  Another segment of humanity emphasizes the soul alone, and views food and sex as something to be avoided or limited.  Some religions require their most “holy” members to abstain from sex, which, as recent history has revealed, is not only impossible for humans, but denying them this natural human desire, can cause them to act in very perverted and animalistic ways.  R’ Sacks defines Judaism’s view as one that sees the “human situation in terms of integration and balance”.  We are not just a body, nor are we just a soul.  We are a soul housed in a body.  Judaism’s view is that our job is to not emphasize one aspect of our being over the other, but to instead transform the mundane into the holy.  We are to sanctify the acts of eating and sex through the dietary laws and the laws of family purity (niddah and mikveh).  After a lengthy list of forbidden relationships in Sidra Kedoshim we are told:

“Do not defile yourselves in any of those ways, for it is by such that the nations that I am casting out before you defiled themselves.  Thus the land became defiled; and I called it to acount for its iniquity, and the land spewed out its inhabitants.  But you must keep My laws and My rules, and you must not do any of those abhorrent things, neither the citizen nor the stranger (Ger) who resides among you; for all those abhorrent things were done by the people who were in the land before you, and the land became defiled.  So let not the land spew you out for defiling it, as it spewed out the nation that came before you.  All who do any of those abhorrent things – such persons shall be cut off from their people. You shall keep My charge not to engage in any of the abhorrent practices that were carried on before you, and you shall not defile yourselves through them: I Hashem am your G-d.”  (Vayiqra 18:24-30)

Please note that the wording in Vayiqra 18 is similar to that of Vayiqra 11.  Through these two passages we are told that it is through the acts of eating and sexual conduct that we we can corrupt ourselves.  Maybe, bezrat Hashem, we can discuss further the connection between sexual conduct and holiness when we get to Acharei Mot.  For now, lets look a little deeper into the teaching in this week’s sidra which pertains to holiness and the consumption of food.  It is so important for us to know how to distinguish between what is permitted and what is forbidden; between what is pure and what is impure!  The dietary laws are not designed to promote physical health, but to maintain the health of our soul.  Consuming food which the Torah forbids impairs the purity of our soul.  What we eat can defile and contaminate us spiritually!!!!

“You shall be holy to Me, for I Hashem am holy, and I have set you apart from the other peoples to be mine.”  (Vayiqra 20:26)

The Chofetz Chaim teaches us that one of the effects of consuming non-kosher food, is that the “tzelem Elokim” (the Divine Image) leaves us, leaving us vulnerable to many misfortunes.In the book of Daniel we read about four young men: Daniel, Chananiah, Mishael and Azariah who refrained from defiling themselves with what they ate.  We are told that their countenance appeared good because they did not remove their Master’s image by consuming non-kosher food.  (see Daniel 1: 8-15).  Once we allow ourselves to be drawn after our lusts, and to violate the will of Hashem, we are immediately enveloped in impurity.  It is interesting to note that impurity can effect us by merely allowing ourselves to get too close.  Like a germ that can jump from one person to the next, sometimes without physical contact.  Yet, purity only has an impact when it is absorbed.  We do not become holy just by contact with what is holy, we must absorb the holiness and allow it to penetrate deep into our being.  The litmus test for this is the lifestyle one lives.  If there is no positive change in one’s lifestyle after coming into contact with holiness, than it is a sure-fire sign that it has not been absorbed.

This brings us to another important lesson we can learn from the dietary laws detailed in this sidra: that of making a false show of piety.  In Vayiqra 11:4-8 we read about four animals that are missing one of the two kosher signs.  Only the Creator of all would know that these four species have only one of the two signs.  This is actually an amazing proof of the Divinity of the Torah as well.  To this very day no other species except for the ten listed in D’varim 14: 4-6 (ox, sheep, goat, deer, gazelle, roebuck, wild goat, ibex, antelope, mountain sheep) have ever been discovered that meet the requirements of both a split hoof and rumination.  No one but the Creator Himself could have categorized them without missing a single one.  So this begs the question, why did He create these four animals which could easily be mistaken by we finite humans?  But not only that, He makes sure we know the truth so that we are not fooled.  This is a sure sign that He is teaching us to dig deeper.

“and the swine – although it has true hoofs, with the hoofs cleft though, it does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you.”  (Vayiqra 11:7)

The swine is the one of the four which is most likely to fool, because it has the outward sign of being kosher, but inwardly it is not.  Our Sages teach that this alludes to people who make a great display of piety outwardly, but they are filled with evil thoughts and wickedness.  These hypocrites are very disgusting in G-d’s eyes, more so than one who is wicked both inwardly and outwardly.

“Hypocrites are only pious on the outside, and they can easily fool the rest of the world into thinking they are good.” (Kli Yakar)

The pig has one of the signs of being kosher, and it shows it’s hoof to the world as if to say, “look, I’m kosher!”, and yet the pig is unclean on the inside.  This is symbolic of people who show off, pretending to be holy when they are not.  There are those people who are outwardly prideful, and who openly display their pride. But there is another type of people who are inwardly proud but outwardly behave as if they are pious, with the intent of fooling others.

“For the LORD of Hosts has ready a day against all that is proud and arrogant, against all that is lofty – so that it is brought low: against all the cedars of Lebanon, tall and stately, and all the oaks of Bashan; against all the high mountains and all the lofty hills; against every soaring tower and every might wall; against all the ships of Tarshish and all the gallant barks.  Then man’s haughtiness shall be humbled and the pride of man brought low.  None but Hashem shall be exalted in that day.”  (Yeshayahu 2: 12-17)

That’s a powerful warning!  If people show off, G-d will take vengeance on them!  Notice that there are two types of people being warned:  “the proud and arrogant”, and “the lifted up and lowly”.  R’ Yitzchok Magriso in Me’am Lo’ez explains the difference in these two forms of pride.  The first, the proud and arrogant, he defines as those who are prideful both inwardly and outwardly.  These people are proud and are not ashamed to show it.  The second, the lifted up and lowly, he defines as those who are inwardly proud but outwardly behave like dust of the earth, so as to fool others into thinking them to be humble and saintly.  They appear saintly and religious, but it is a trick and they are trying to swindle others with their fake piety.  The second type of person, says R’ Magriso, is more hated by G-d than one who is not a hypocrite, and is as evil outside as he is inwardly.  At least he gets credit for not fooling others.  R’ Magriso tells the following powerful story, which I will quote in its entirety:

“It was told that there was a saint who was very wealthy.  He wanted to go to the Holy Land.  He took all his wealth and began his journey.  Along the way he stopped off in a city and he saw a Jew whose name was Alexander.  This Jew spent most of his time in synagogue wearing his tallit and tefillin and praying.  The saint said to himself, ‘it is better that I leave all my wealth with this fine Jew until I can go to the Holy Land and make all my preparations.  Then I will come back for my money.  It is better that I do not take my wealth with me, because I am concerned about robbers and other evil people whom I might encounter on my way.’  He waited in the synagoge until Alexander finished his prayer.  When he finished his prayer, the saint approached him and said, ‘I am on my way to the Holy Land.  I am in a strange land and do not know anybody.  I have much money in my possession and I am concerned about carrying it with me lest I be robbed.  I would like  to give it to you to hold until I return and then I will take it.’   ‘An excellent idea,’ replied Alexander.  ‘It is best that you leave all your money with me.  I will place it next to my wealth and you will have nothing to worry about.  With G-d’s help, when you return I will give it back to you exactly as you gave it to me.’  The saint gave Alexander the money and went along his way in peace.  Time passed and the saint settled in the Holy Land and bought a house.  He then told his wife, ‘let me now go abroad to Alexander and get all my money.’  When the saint finally got to Alexander he said to him, ‘My good friend, I’ve come to get my money from you.’ ‘Who are you?” replied Alexander.  ‘I never saw you before in my life.’  When the saint heard these words, he began to tremble and shake.  He fell on the ground and began to weep and cry.  He begged Alexander not to do such a terrible thing to him.  This was his entire fortune.  Alexander began to humiliate him and complain that he was framing him.  He said, ‘I have never seen you before in my life.  I never took anything from you.’  When the saint saw his bad situation he went to the synagogue and he began to cry out to G-d, ‘Lord of the universe, You are Master of the whole world and You are my Trust.  I saw this Jew in tallit and tefillin all day long praying.  I gave him everything I owned.  Now I see that all his righteousness was just to trick others and steal from them.  Oh G-d, I am placing my judgment in Your Hands.  Let my righteous case come out to light.  If necessary, perform miracles for me.  Let me have revenge on this man so that all people will know Your great power.’  While tears were still pouring out of his eyes in the synagogue, Elijah the prophet appeared to him and said, ‘Do not be afraid.  Go to Alexander’s wife and say to her, ‘let this be a sign to you.  Last Passover both of you ate leaven.  Also on Yom Kippur morning you both had a meal together before you went to the synagogue. When you tell them these two signs they will return your money.’  The saint went and waited until Alexander left his house to go about his business.  He knocked on Alexander’s door and when his wife answered he told her the two things Elijah had revealed to him. She immediately gave him his money and he went on his way happy and rejoicing and thanking G-d.  When Alexander returned home he heard about the secrets that the saint had revealed to his wife.  He said, ‘Now my hypocrisy has become revealed to everyone.  I will no longer be able to live here.’  Both of them went out and became apostates. May their names be blotted out.” (Me’am Lo’ez, Vol. 11, page 234-235)

Our heart cannot contain egotism and the Shechina at the same time.  The two are directly opposed to each other.  As soon as anger or arrogance, both motivated by egotism, take possession of the heart, the Shechina departs.  Hashem desires for His people to do good deeds in private, not show offs.

“He has told you, O man, what is good, and what Hashem requires of you: only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk modestly with your G-d.”  (Micha 6:8)

The main thing that G-d desires from us that we be modest in our good deeds.  Even good deeds which must be done publicly, should not be done in a show-off manner.  They should be done modestly so that people do not praise us for doing them.  When we give charity, it should always be done in secret so that the recipient should not be embarrassed.  Other good deeds should also be done secretly so that as few people as possible are aware of our actions.  In general, the rule is, the more a person can hide his good deeds, the better.  Those who receive their praise in this world will one day be very sad, when they realize the praise they would have received in the world to come would have been worth waiting for.  If we pursue praise in this world, we are forfeiting the reward we could have received in the world to come.  Be wary of any one who outwardly appears holy, but whose lifestyle when truly examined, does not reflect the same level of holiness.  As they adage goes: those who know don’t tell and those who tell don’t know, can hold true here as well.  Those who appear to be outwardly holy, we should probably suspect and watch carefully.  As the story above told us, just because someone spends all his time in the synagogue, wearing holy looking garb, that is not the true litmus test for holiness.  Those who don’t come off as being holy, are usually the one’s who are quietly living a truly holy life.

R’ Yitzchok Zilberstein teaches that a “living person” is one who has restrictions.  He quotes the Biala Rebbe who sees that the phrase, “that brings up the cud”, as suggesting that a person should “chew over” his every action in his mind.  Further he sees the phrase, “that has a split hoof”, as suggesting that he should proceed cautiously, with half steps, being exceedingly careful in how he behaves.  The dietary laws are about restraint and reverence. (Aleinu L’Shabei’ach)

R’ Munk explains that the Creator’s has a unique knowledge of the inner relationship between body and soul, which is expressed by the dietary laws. These laws tell us which foods are harmful and would disturb that harmony between body and soul.  The Midrash Tanchuma tells us that the laws were given to purify and ennoble our lives.  The Torah repeatedly connects spiritual purity and holiness with the adherence to the dietary laws.

“For you are a people consecrated to Hashem your G-d; Hashem your G-d chose you from among all the other peoples on earth to be His treasured people.  You shall not eat anything abhorrent.”  (D’varim 14: 2-3)

There is obviously a cause and effect between what we eat and holiness.  What we eat can purify our soul or stain it.  We can, by the food we consume, be causing a spiritual disease to manifest without us.  We don’t fully understand how this works, but the warnings make it clear that eating the flesh of prohibited animals has a harmful effect on us.  Holiness is, and always has been, the supreme goal of the Jewish people.  R’ Munk defines holiness as including “moral purity, detachment from all that is vulgar and scrupulous respect for the Divine mitzvot”, especially those, like the dietary laws, which go beyond our human comprehension.  Through self-discipline and self-denial, man has the ability to prevent himself from becoming a slave to his sensual appetites, elevating himself above the animals who have similar urges and appetites. The goal is to elevate our sensual pleasures to a level of holiness.

I pray that Hashem help us all to partake of this world solely for the sake of fulfilling His will.  May we strive to live holy lives, not just holy looking lives.  Hashem is not looking for people who look Jew-ish, He desires people who actually live holy lives.  Who live the life of a Jew.

May all Israel be allowed to sing His praises in the rebuilt holy Temple, speedily and in our days!

Be blessed and be a blessing,


About the author
Rhonda has traveled from Utah to Toronto in what seemed to be a season of wanderlusting, which ended up being a relocation in the making. Using her life experiences, Rhonda teaches from the heart and is a perfect example of what it means to follow your heart and dedicate yourself to your spiritual community. Join Rhonda every week as she gives us our Weekly Manna on the Torah Portion for Women.

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