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The parasha opens the laws of kashrut with:
These are the creatures that you may eat from among all the animals that are upon the earth (11:2). Commentators throughout the ages have suggested reasons for the laws of permitted and forbidden foods. Rashi states that they are analogous to a doctor prescribing a special diet to restore a sick patient to full physical health. Likewise, the Creator recognizes the sacred, holy potential of the Israelite nation and He prescribes the foods that are in harmony with its spiritual growth and its spiritually high position in the Creation.
The Sforno explores the link between kedusha - holiness, and the laws of kashrut in depth. One of the repeated themes in his commentary is the link between kedusha and eternity. "A kingdom of priests and a holy (kadosh) nation" (Ex. 19:6) means that the nation of Israel is designed to last forever. Based on Sanhedrin 92a's explanation of Isaiah 4:3, he shows that the nation that has kedusha - holiness - is meant to be eternal. For kedusha is integral to eternity.
Indeed, immediately after the giving of the Torah, the kedusha was so intense that there was no need for the mishkan - the Tabernacle. The Sforno bases this on "wherever I permit My Name to be mentioned, I shall come to you and bless you" (Ex. 20:21). That meant that the shechina - the Divine Presence of G-d - was permanently established amongst the Israelites, and a special sanctuary was not necessary.
But after the sin of the golden calf, G-d was set to withdraw the shechina from Israel: "For I will not go up with you" (Ex. 33:3). However, He listened to Moses prayers to the degree that the shechina would continue to accompany the Israelites in its intense form, but in a more diminished form and at its greatest intensity through the mishkan only. Thus the Sforno understands the sequence of the events.
It was into this situation that the laws of kashrut were put into place. The Sforno explains that they are to refine the souls of klal yisrael as individuals and as a single entity, so that they may receive the shechina, and that it would accompany them. That would be permanent, as the parasha ends with "You shall be holy, for I am holy" (11:45): you shall be holy and everlasting, resembling Me, for I am holy and everlasting.
The Sforno repeatedly emphasizes the link between the eternity of Israel to its sanctity. It has been suggested that this was to give encouragement to his people during the hard times in the sixteenth century. It could be just as relevant today: by keeping these mitzvot we bring the Redemption and the Messiah closer. As the Sforno quotes: "A man sanctifies himself a little, and he is sanctified (by G-d) in great measure" (Yoma 39a).
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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