Written by: Ariel Rachel Scher, 6th grader who becomes a Bat Mitzvah on 9/3/16
September 2, 2016
29 Av 5776
One of the most famous mitzvot is that of eating Kosher. Most people, Everyone knows that there are foods that Jews are supposed to stay away from. Pork and Shellfish, among other things, are out. Gefilte Fish and Matzah Balls are in.
The laws of Kosher originate from the Torah and more specifically from my Parsha, which is read this Shabbat at Synagogues around the world.
Here is some of what G-d tells us in the Parsha about which animals we are allowed to eat:
וְכָל בְּהֵמָה מַפְרֶסֶת פַּרְסָה וְשֹׁסַעַת שֶׁסַע שְׁתֵּי פְרָסוֹת מַעֲלַת גֵּרָה בַּבְּהֵמָה אֹתָהּ תֹּאכֵלוּ
And every animal that has a split hoof and has a hoof cloven into two hoof sections, [and] chews the cud among the animals that you may eat.
The Torah tells us that for an animal to be Kosher it needs to have two signs:
1) It must have split hoofs (split feet)
2) After it eats something it must bring its food back up and chew it again a few more times before swallowing it.
Only animals that have both of these signs (like a cow, sheep and goat) are allowed to be eaten.
Why would G-d care if an animal has those two signs? What does having split feet or rechewing food have anything to do with making an animal okay to be eaten? And what lesson can I learn from this?
Food is the most important staple of life. It provides us with nourishment and sustenance, and without it we can’t live. That is why food is always on our mind. We constantly think about our next meal and we get excited when going to a restaurant or party. Just like in physical health, what we eat has an effect on us, so too our spiritual life is affected by what we eat.
G-d gave us the Kosher laws so that every time we eat, which is often, we should remember Him and the lessons He wants to teach us from the foods we are eating.
The first sign of a Kosher animal is the split feet. What is the lesson from this metaphor?
There are many times in life when we need to make choices about which direction to head in. Sometimes we feel like we reach a fork in the road and cannot decide which way to go. The first lesson is that just like in the split hoof, symbolizing the split road, there can be more than one way which is correct. A kosher animal has a split foot with each side facing another direction, so too in life, a Kosher and proper life sometimes have more than one path which is the correct path.
At the same time, another lesson we can learn is that when it comes to making choices we need to always have a clear understanding of each option and its consequences. Just like in the split hoof each side is clearly defined.
The idea of knowing how to make choices and decisions is something which is important to remember every day because it isn’t always easy. Even though I am still young, I know how hard this can be. There were times when I needed to choose which school to go to, or make other important decisions and I realized how hard it can be at times to make big decisions. The Kosher laws gives us a daily reminder of how to make tough choices. Look at every option and understand that 1) there could be more than one way 2) know the consequences of your choices 3) sometimes you can’t remain in the middle and must take a stand.
Now let's talk about the other Kosher sign, the fact that the animal needs to chew over its food. What can we possibly learn from that?
There is a saying that people use sometimes when they are unsure of what to do, they say “Let me chew it over”.
What does that mean to 'chew’ something over? It means to think about it a few more times before deciding how to answer or how to proceed. And I think this is the lesson that G-d wanted us to learn by giving us this sign.
Just like for an animal to be a Kosher one it needs to chew over its food, so too in life, in order to know if our decisions and actions are the Kosher ones (proper ones), we need to first chew things over. We need to think things over a few times before we speak or act.
Imagine how much better our life would be if we thought things over a few times before we acted? We would say nicer things, and act in better and smarter ways.
Once I realized the important messages and lessons that we can learn from what, at first, seemed to be strange Kosher laws - I was excited because it made the metaphor come to life in a way that was so real and practical.
But then the Rabbi asked me; if G-d had these important life lessons for us, why didn’t he just tell us the lessons outright? Why did He teach it to us only through a metaphor?
And then I realized another brilliant Torah idea. If we would be just taught the lesson directly we might forget it after a while. But when it is told to us in a metaphor and then we have to figure out the metaphor, we remember the lesson a lot longer.