Chukat 5771

June 26, 2011

8 min read


Chukat (Numbers 19:1-22:1 )

GOOD MORNING! In this day and age, most Jews do not keep Kosher.  Why not?  Is it because we are more knowledgeable than our forebearers the past 3,000 years?  Do we know what they knew, weighed the information and concluded that keeping Kosher is out?  Or, was it a slide away from observance over the years and over the generations due to getting along in a modern world?  I am betting that 99.9% of us will answer -- if we are truthful -- that it's the latter case.  We don't know what our ancestors knew and we are comfortable doing what we are doing.

What could possibly motivate us to keep Kosher?  Well, if we really knew that there is a God who gave us the Torah and that we have a covenant with Him to keep the Torah (which includes Kashruth!) -- it would probably motivate some people.  Then again, I can hear the response -- "What?  You want me to buy new dishes, pots and pans ... and two sets?  Are you nuts?  Do you realize how difficult it would be to keep Kosher?  The changes to my kitchen and to my lifestyle?"  Everything in life has a cost.  The only question is if one believes that the payoff is worth the investment.  A person is going to do what a person wants to do.

What if keeping Kosher would help ensure that your children marry someone Jewish and that you would have Jewish grandchildren?  Would that be motivating?  What if it were healthier, enhanced spirituality, increased personal discipline, inculcated moral values?  Would that intrigue you to look further?  Perhaps the following benefits and understandings of keeping Kosher will be food for thought:

1) Hygienic -- There are many laws that promote health.  The Torah forbids eating animals that died without proper slaughter and the draining of the blood (which is a medium for the growth of bacteria).  It also forbids eating animals that have abscesses in their lungs or other health problems.  Shellfish, mollusks, lobsters (and yes, stone crabs) which have spread typhoid and are a source for urticara (a neurotic skin affliction) are not on the diet.  Milk and meat digest at an unequal rate and are difficult for the body; they are forbidden to be eaten together.  Birds of prey are not Kosher -- tension and hormones produced might make the meat unhealthy.

2) Moral Lessons -- We are taught a sensitivity to feelings -- even to the feelings of animals.  A mother and her young are forbidden to be slaughtered on the same day and "a kid (goat) is not to be seethed in its mother's milk."  We are also instructed to forbid cruelty to animals.  The Torah forbids removing the limb of an animal while it is still alive (a common practice before refrigeration).  When we slaughter an animal, it must be done with the least possible pain; there is a special knife that is so sharp that even the slightest nick in the blade renders it impermissible to be used.  This prevents pain to the animal.  And we are reminded not to be vicious by the prohibition to eat birds of prey which are vicious.

3) National Reasons -- We are a unique people, with a mission of Tikun Olom, personal responsibility for perfecting the world.  We have a special diet to remind us of our mission and to keep us together as a people to fulfill it.  Keeping Kosher puts up a barrier.  It is hard to intermarry when you have to take your non-Jewish date to a Kosher restaurant or if you go to a prospective mother-in-law's home and you won't eat her food....  Keeping Kosher is also a reminder of our gratitude to the Almighty for taking us out of Egypt (Leviticus 11:45); it's a part of the covenant between us and God:  "For I am the Lord your God -- you shall sanctify yourselves and be holy for I am holy; and you shall not contaminate your souls with all that creeps on the earth..." (Lev. 11:44).

4) Mystical -- The Torah calls us a Holy People and prescribes a holy diet (Deuteronomy 14:2-4).  You are what you eat.  Kosher is God's diet for spirituality.  Jewish mysticism teaches that non-kosher food blocks the spiritual potential of the soul.  Kosher animals properly slaughtered and prepared have more "sparks of holiness" (according to the Kabbalah) which are incorporated in our being.

5) Discipline -- If one can discipline himself in what and when he eats, he can discipline himself in other areas of life.  Kashruth requires that one must wait after eating meat before eating milk products and may not eat certain animals or combinations of foods.

If you disagree with these understandings and benefits, you would likely be able to find in history some great rabbi who was on your side.  But that same rabbi would agree with every other rabbi that the real reason we eat Kosher is that God gave the Jewish people the Torah.  We, the Jewish people, bound ourselves to the Almighty in a covenant to keep the commandments of the Torah.

If you are curious to understanding why we believe in God and why we believe that God gave us the same Torah as we have now, I suggest Permission to Believe and Permission to Receive by Lawrence Keleman.  If you want to know more about Kashruth, I recommend The Kosher Kitchen by Rabbi Ze'ev Greenwald; it is a user-friendly, practical and illustrated guide that eliminates the mystery and confusion.  All three books are available at your local Jewish bookstore, at or by calling toll-free to 877-758-3242.

The prime directive of the Torah is that the Almighty does not want us to become neurotics.  If one wants to upgrade his observance of the Torah, he must do it in intelligent, calculated steps.  Just as a parent loves the first steps of his toddler, the Almighty treasures our steps towards fulfilling his Torah.  Do what you can do with thoughts of doing even more.  This is the sane approach in coming closer to the Almighty and fulfilling his commandments.

For more on "Keeping Kosher" go to!


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Torah Portion of the Week

Another week of action, adventure and mystery as the Jewish people wander the desert in their 38th year.  First, the laws of the red heifer (Parah Adumah) which was burnt with cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet thread.  The ashes were then used in a purification ceremony for those who had come in contact with the dead.  Strangely enough, all who were involved in the making of the ashes became ritually impure, but all who were sprinkled with them became ritually pure.  It is a lesson that we must do the commandments even if we can't understand them.  God decreed the commandments.  They are for our benefit.  We may not always know why.

Miriam, Moshe's sister and a prophetess, dies.  The portable well which had accompanied the Israelites on her merit, ceased to flow.  Once again the people rebel against Moshe and Aharon because of the lack of water.  The Almighty tells Moshe to speak to the rock for water.  Moshe gets angry and hits the rock and water rushes forth.  However, the Almighty punishes Moshe and Aharon for not sanctifying Him by forbidding their entry into the land of Israel.  (It pays to follow instructions and to withhold anger!)

Aharon dies.  His son, Elazar, is appointed the new High Priest.  The Canaanite king of Arad attacks the Israelites and later is soundly defeated.  Then there is another rebellion over the food and water which is answered by a plague of poisonous snakes.  Moshe prays for the people and is instructed by God to put the image of a snake on a high pole.  All who see it would think of God, repent and live.

The Israelites then annihilate the Amorites and Bashanites who not only would not let us pass peacefully through their lands, but attacked us.  There are many questions which need to be asked.  Please consult the original work and a good commentary.

* * *

Dvar Torah
based on Love Your Neighbor by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

When the Israelites wanted to pass through the land of the Amorites, they sought permission.  The Torah states:

"And Israel sent messengers to Sichon, King of the Amorites, saying ..." (Numbers 21:21).

The Midrash says that there are many commandments that the Torah requires us to fulfill when the opportunity arises, but the Torah does not require us to actively pursue the particular situation.  However, you are obligated to pursue peace as it is written, "Seek peace and pursue it" (Psalms 34).  Therefore, Israel sent messengers to Sichon to seek peace.  Hillel said, "Be a disciple of Aharon: love peace and pursue peace, love people and draw them near to the Torah" (Pirkei Avos 1:12).


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