Shemini 5784

One of the behaviours that identify Jews from other people is the type of food that we consume. Specifically, the laws of Kashrut. There is a huge range of behaviours, of what is acceptable and what is not, and also, why we Jews are commanded to observe these laws in the first place!

In this week’s parasha, Shimini, we read about one aspect of these laws, the lists of the animals we are permitted to eat and those animals which are prohibited. Whether one observes the laws or not, the first animal that most would name that is prohibited is the pig. We might expect therefore, the animal that probably most exemplifies trief, to be at the front of the list. In actual fact, it is near the end.

Even more surprisingly, the pig does not violate the standards of kashrut as flagrantly as other animals do. The Torah teaches that in order to be kosher, animals must chew their cud and have cloven hoofs. The pig does not chew its cud, but it does have cloven hoofs–so we might expect that it would be less offensive than animals that meet neither criterion.

Knowing this, how might we understand how aversion to pork has come to be such an important and sometimes significant part of our Jewish identity? Biblical scholars have suggested an array of historical possibilities, but there is a beautiful Midrash that could shed some light.

As we learned, Kashrut for mammals depends on two main characteristics; one external (the cloven hoof) and one internal (chewing the cud). It is very easy to determine the first category. A cursory inspection of an animal will easily determine if it satisfies the hoof criteria. But the second category requires a bit more understanding of physiology and might not be enough simply observing the animal.

The same could be said about our relations with people. We can be relatively sure about the initial first impressions we have of people we meet. However, a profound and lasting relationship is dependent on knowing someone on the inside as well. Someone who acts in a certain way externally, or in public, but on the inside is very different lacks integrity and authenticity. In fact, one might say that person is deliberately trying to deceive you.

If we are what we eat, then this Midrash exemplifies that ideal of not consuming something that is so blatantly in violation of the norms of honesty, integrity, and authenticity. If we can push back and remove that influence from what we consume, that could be a starting point to begin to remove it from our lives.

Our rabbis teach us that is exactly what the pig is trying to do. On the outside, it is one thing, but on the inside, it is something else entirely. That kind of behaviour is something we should avoid at all costs and root out from among us and that is why it is unfit, not kosher, for use.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Rafi Kaiserblueth

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