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The Case for Kashrut

Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9 )

by Rabbi Stephen Baars

Picture this scene:

It's 1944 and a band of SS have overtaken a small village on a hill in occupied France. General Patton has them surrounded and about to order a frontal assault led by 27 very impressive Sherman tanks. All of a sudden the chaplain runs up and screams: "STOP! STOP!"

He informs the esteemed general that he has to take a different route, the field he is about to destroy is filled with apple trees.

As it says in this week's parsha, when you approach a city in war, do not destroy the fruit trees. (Deut. 20:19-20)

It's important to appreciate how bizarre this law is. According to Jewish law, war is considered a time of tremendous danger. As such, many a Mitzvah is abandoned. For instance, you can fire a gun on Shabbat and eat non-kosher food (if that is all you have). Yet here the Torah says, don't forget the fruit trees.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for protecting nature. But there is a war going on and I'm into protecting human life too.

Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch points out that the word for bread in Hebrew, is the same word for war. Why? Because life (which is what bread symbolizes) is a battle.

You have an enemy, whether that is the Third Reich or earning a living. You have your strategies and you have your surprises. It's all the same. And if you are successful you enter Berlin in one, and sit down for dinner in the other. This is why we wash our hands before eating bread.

Because there are two ways to win a war (and earn a living), the honest way, and the other way. Make sure you do so with clean hands and a clear conscience.

So why the fruit trees?

Because the most valuable weapon in your defense is thinking. WW2 was won because of smart thinking, Vietnam was lost for lack thereof. When you stop the thinking you become the most vulnerable. And nothing stops the thinking like when bullets start flying.

So what does the Torah tell you to do before you go into battle?

Think. Is this a fruit tree or not? Remember, most of the year (when the fruit is not on the tree) it's very hard to tell - you are going to have to really think about this.

So too, in your home. Bills are due, kids are sick, spouse is tired, and you've had a long day. Then your dinner is burnt…. So before you react, think!

How does the Torah get you to think? Kashrut. It just adds another layer on to the functioning of your life. Which one is meat, or milk? What are the separations? How long in-between? And no less, the blessings --- all these add a level of thinking, giving you a chance to win in the battle of life.

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