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Parashat Shemini

Parashat Shemini

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Published by: Harav Michael Elkohen on Apr 20, 2012
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  Parashah Insights
 Rabbi Yaakov Hillel 
 Rosh Yeshivat Ahavat Shalom Parashat Shemini
The Sanctity of 
The Dangers of Forbidden Foods
“And Hashem spoke to Moshe and to Aharon, saying to them, speak to thechildren of Israel saying, these are the animals which you may eat, from among allthe animals which are on the earth” (
11:1-2).“Do not defile your souls with all the insects and reptiles which crawl, and do notcontaminate yourself with them, and be contaminated by them. For I am Hashem your G-d. And you will sanctify yourselves and be holy, for I am holy” (11:43-44).Our Sages provide insight into the commandments concerning forbidden foods with a vivid parable (
Vayikra Rabbah
13:2). A doctor visited two patients. It was clearto him that one could recover and survive, while the other was beyond cure. He gavethe first patient strict instructions concerning permitted and forbidden foods, butimposed no restrictions on the patient who in any case would not live long.The nations of the world are like the deathly ill patient with no chance of recovery. They are not destined for eternal life, so there is no point in restrainingthem from eating whatever they please. The Jewish people, on the other hand, willlive on forever in the World to Come, so it is important that they protect theirspiritual wellbeing by refraining from the defilement of forbidden foods. In thiscontext, they teach that “the commandments were only given as a means to refinemankind” (
Vayikra Rabbah
 Midrash Lekah Tov
describes the affects of consuming forbidden foods:they corrupt man’s intellect and cause him to grow foolish. Purity and sanctity, incontrast, bring Divine Inspiration (
 Ruah HaKodesh
) to rest upon man (Commentary on 11:43).The
teaches that all living beings, animals, birds, and fish included, arederived either from the “right side,” or in other words, from the Forces of Sanctity, orfrom the “left side,” the Forces of Impurity. Those derived from sanctity arepermitted for consumption. Those derived from impurity defile whoever consumesthem, and are therefore prohibited. The Jewish people, who are themselves derivedfrom the “Side of Sanctity,” are forbidden by the Torah to contaminate themselves with impure animals, in order to maintain their sanctity. The Al-mighty said, “Israel in whom I glorify” (
49:3). He is glorified by His people, who are created inHis image. It follows that we must keep ourselves holy and sanctified, by refrainingfrom the defilement of forbidden foods (
, vol. III, p. 41b). As we see, then, our Sages teach that because the Jewish people alone will meriteternal life in the World to Come, they must sanctify themselves, body and soul,through abstention from foods forbidden by the Torah. True, it is Torah and
  which imbue us with sanctity. However, we must also distance ourselves fromsources of defilement, with forbidden foods high on the list. As we see, forbiddenfoods contaminate us, dull our intellect, ruin our judgment, prevent us from learningTorah and fulfilling its commandments, and draw us to the “Side of Impurity.” With the commandment to refrain from forbidden foods, the Torah teaches usthat not only the spiritual soul, but the material body as well can be either purified or,G-d forbid, defiled. It is up to us to guard and maintain the body’s sanctity, so that it will be restored to life at the Resurrection of the Dead in the World to Come.The Torah tells us, “For not on bread alone does man live, rather by all thatemerges from the Mouth of Hashem will man live” (
8:3). We canunderstand this verse on a profound level. Eating has both material and spiritualsignificance. From the strictly physical standpoint, the consumption of food keepsthe body alive. But the
involved in eating – partaking only of kosher foodpermitted by the Torah, reciting the required blessings before and after eating, andthe intention to eat in order to serve our Creator, not merely for our own enjoyment– are for the rectification of the soul. In contrast, rather than providing the spiritualbenefit imparted by kosher foods, consumption of forbidden foods harms both body and soul, as we learn from the Torah and our Sages’ teachings.
The Body and the Scroll 
The body of a Jew has great sanctity, so much so that our Sages compare it tothe sanctity of a Torah scroll, the holiest of all sacred items. For example, they teachthat if we must convey a corpse for burial by donkey, we may not put it in asaddlebag and sit on it as we ride, which would be a disgrace to the body. Instead itshould be positioned to the side, as a sign of respect. The
continues, “andthey said the same of a Torah scroll,” equating the need for respectful treatment of the body and of the scroll (
18a). Elsewhere they say, “How foolish arethose people who stand up for a Torah scroll, but do not stand up for a Torahscholar” (
22b).They also teach that “One who holds a Torah scroll uncovered will be buriednaked” (
14a). When we handle a Torah scroll, whether to learn from it,repair it, or fulfill any other
, we must treat it with the utmost respect. In Ashkenazic custom, a Torah scroll is wound on two
 atze hayyim
which are used toroll the parchment as necessary. In Sephardic custom, the scroll stands in a box,and the only way to turn the parchment is by touching it. For this reason SephardicTorah scrolls are routinely accompanied by scarves. The parchment is alwayshandled through the scarf, never by a bare hand. If we touch the scroll with ourhand, our Sages tell us, we will lose the
 we intended to fulfill: we will be“buried naked,” meaning bereft of the
. We can derive an additional important lesson from our Sages’ choice of wording.If we disgrace a Torah scroll by touching it with uncovered hands, our body will beburied in disgrace, G-d forbid, without the dignity of the covering of a shroud. Theelement of “measure for measure” is apparent. We find this comparison in
 Pirke Avot
as well: “Rabbi Yosse says, one whorespects the Torah, his body is respected by people. And one who disgraces theTorah, his body will be disgraced by people” (4:6). Why do our Sages specifically say that
his body
will be disgraced, rather thansaying that “
will be disgraced?” Because even the physical body of a Jew becomes sanctified through Torah and
, so much so that it is considered tobe equivalent to a Torah scroll. In keeping with the principle of “measure formeasure,” it is only right that if one disgraces the Torah, G-d forbid, his body will inturn be disgraced by others.The message is clear. Every Jew, created in the image of G-d, is deserving of thedignity and respect bestowed upon a Torah scroll; this is especially true of a Torah

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