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Torah Attitude: Parashas Shemini/Parashas Parah: Only G'd could do this
The Torah describes those animals that are permitted and those that are forbidden to be consumed by the Jewish people. The details of the purification using ashes from the red heifer are so illogical to the human mind that even King Solomon could not understand them. "You shall be holy because I am holy." Every living being should be treated with a measure of mercy and respect. When G'd took us out of Egypt He chose us to be His holy nation and elevated us to a higher purpose. The Torah continues to list four animals that are prohibited because they only have one of the two signs. "The Ruler of the world knows that there is no other animal like these, and therefore singles them out." Only the Creator Himself Who created every species in the world, could undertake this responsibility and announce that these are the only four animals in the world with these distinct signs. Many farmers in modern-day Israel, who have undertaken to observe the Shemitah, can tell of their personal experience how they have seen their crop tripled in the year before Shemitah. When the Temple stood, all Jewish males were obligated to ascend to Jerusalem with their special holiday offerings. Only G'd could orchestrate all the Purim events to bring about the salvation of the Jewish people. The same G'd Who took the Jewish people out of Egypt, and saved them at the time of Mordechai and Esther, He will take us out of our long and bitter exile with the coming of Mashiach.
Permitted and forbidden animals
Is this week's portion the Torah describes those animals that are permitted and those that are forbidden to be consumed by the Jewish people. It is well known that the Torah consists of two kinds of commandments, decrees and ordinances. The decrees are beyond human comprehension, whereas the ordinances are logical laws that govern society and inter-personal relationships.
This week we read an extra portion, Parashas Parah, about the purification by sprinkling water with ashes from a red heifer upon someone who had become impure. The details of this purification are so illogical to the human mind that even King Solomon expressed that he could not understand them (see Mishlei 7:23).
You shall be holy
Although the details of our dietary laws belong to the category of the decrees, the Torah provides a general understanding why the Jewish people have been singled out to observe these laws. Towards the end of the Parasha, it says (Vayikra 11:43-45) "Do not defile yourselves through them [i.e. any prohibited food] … For I am HASHEM Who elevated you from the land of Egypt to be your G'd… And you shall be holy because I am holy."
Do not consume live animals
All of mankind was given the seven Noachide laws by G'd as hinted in the very beginning of the Torah (see Sanhedrin 56b). These laws include one dietary restriction, not to consume any part of an animal that is still alive. The Torah instructs that every living being should be treated with a measure of mercy and respect. No human has the right to be cruel to any animal.
However, there is a host of dietary restrictions and obligations among the six hundred thirteen commandments given to the Jewish people. This is what is being addressed in the above verses. When G'd took us out of Egypt He chose us to be His holy nation and elevated us to a higher purpose. With this new situation certain animals became prohibited to the Jewish people. If we consume these animals we defile ourselves in a way that prevents us from reaching the high level of sanctity expected of us.
Four non-kosher animals
However, the dietary laws have an additional lesson. When the Torah describes the signs of which animals may be consumed and which may not, it says (Vayikra 11:3) "Any animal that has a split hoof that is completely separated and brings up its cud that one you may eat." The Torah continues to list four animals that are prohibited because they only have one of the two signs. For example, the camel brings up its cud but its hoof is not split. On the other hand, the pig has a completely split hoof but it does not bring up its cud.
Ruler singles them out
The Talmud (Chulin 59a) teaches that if someone would see an animal that has split hooves, provided that it is not a pig, this animal must be kosher. For the only animal in the world that has split hooves and does not chew its cud is the pig. Similarly, if someone would see an animal that chews its cud and the person knows for sure that this is not a camel or one the other two animals referred to in the Torah that have only this sign of kashruth, one can be certain that this animal is kosher. Many people throughout the generations have stood up to challenge the Divine origin of the Torah. Here would be their chance to disprove the truth of the Torah. All they would have to do would be to make a worldwide search for merely one additional animal that either only chews its cud or only has split hooves. Although the written Torah does not explicitly state that these are the only animals in the world that have these unique signs, in the oral Torah the Talmud informs us that there are no other. As the Talmud (ibid) says, "The Ruler of the world knows that there is no other animal like these, and therefore singles them out."
Only the Creator Himself, Who created every species in the world, could undertake this responsibility and announce that these are the only four animals in the world with these distinct signs. Even today, it would be foolish for any human being to make such a statement, for who can truly say that he knows every single species in the world? How much more so, over three thousand years ago, when the Torah was given at Mount Sinai?
This is but one of many proofs of the Divine origin of the Torah. As mentioned in previous Torah Attitudes, this year is a Shemitah year, literally a Sabbatical for the land of Israel. The Torah instructs that every seventh year Shemitah should be observed. As it says (Vayikra 25:4) "And in the seventh year, it should be a Shabbat of complete rest for the land, a Shabbat for G'd. You shall not sow your field, and you shall not prune your vineyard." This is not an easy obligation to fulfill. Many people find it difficult to keep the weekly Shabbat day of rest, refraining from pursuing their business endeavors or taking care of their shopping needs on that day. It often appears that there are special opportunities that are only available on the weekends and these people feel it as a major challenge not to be able to partake in these opportunities. So one can well imagine how challenging it is for the valiant farmers who undertake to observe Shemitah for a whole year. These farmers who have invested heavily in producing their crop are told to leave their fields barren and basically not do any agricultural work. However, the truth is that just as the Zohar explains that all blessings of the six weekdays depend on Shabbat observance; similarly, G'd promises His blessings to the ones who fulfill the commandment of Shemitah. As it says (Vayikra 25:21-24) "And I will ordain My blessing for you in the sixth year and it shall yield a crop for three years … For the land is Mine, for you are strangers and residents by Me." Only G'd Himself, Who controls every aspect of nature could undertake such a promise and guarantee His blessing will provide the Shemitah observer with his needs. It is no secret that many farmers in modern-day Israel, who have undertaken to observe the Shemitah, can tell of their personal experience how they have seen their crop tripled in the year before Shemitah. They fully understand that as residents in G'd's special land, their gracious Host will look after them as long as they follow His rules.
In a few weeks, we are going to celebrate Passover. When the Temple stood, all Jewish males were obligated to ascend to Jerusalem with their special holiday offerings for the three festivals (see Shemos 23:17 and 34:23). This seems to be a dangerous situation. Just as nowadays the land of Israel is surrounded by enemies, also in the time of the Temple, the neighbouring countries were often hostile to the Jewish state. If every single male ascended to Jerusalem, who would protect the borders and the land, and make sure that the cities were not attacked? Who would protect the women and children who were often left behind on their own? Says the Torah (Shemos 34:24) "And no one will covet your land when you ascend to appear before HASHEM your G'd three times a year." Here again we find a tremendous responsibility that the Torah accepts for the security of the entire Jewish people. Who but G'd could take this upon Himself?
Just a few days ago, we celebrated Purim, commemorating how G'd brought about the salvation of the Jewish people. If we look at every individual event in the Book of Esther, none of them seem to be out of the ordinary. Only when we tie all events together, can we clearly discern how the Hand of G'd was truly behind everything that was taking place. Only G'd could orchestrate all these events to bring about the salvation of the Jewish people.
In most Jewish homes the preparations for Passover are in full swing. At this same time, we remember how G'd openly revealed His total power over every part of the universe. As we reflect on these events and see how the Torah teaches us G'd's Divine laws, it gives us the strength to look ahead in complete faith. We have full confidence that the same G'd Who took the Jewish people out of Egypt, and saved them at the time of Mordechai and Esther, He will take us out of our long and bitter exile with the coming of Mashiach.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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