In Parasha ‘Shemini’, we read about what is relevant to every Jew in all generations: the laws and Kashrut and signs of kosher animals. The Torah lists the signs that enable to identify which animals, fish, or birds are permitted and which are forbidden to eat.
The subject of kosher food occupies an important place in Jewish identity. The concept of kashrut is that what a person puts into his body affects not only the health of the body but also the purity of the soul. Humanity has been aware for thousands of years that the foods a person eats affect the health of the body. As science progresses, we discover with a growing awareness how different foods affect our bodies. On the other hand, the effect of foods on the purity of the soul is unique in Judaism. This knowledge is not scientific, but received through tradition and of divine origin and, as a result, it becomes a characteristic of a Jew who is faithful to the Jewish tradition.
In the past, the foods were much simpler and consisted of well-known ingredients. It was easy to know whether a certain food met the kosher requirements or not. With the development of the food industry, it has become more and more complicated to know whether a food product, which may consist of dozens of ingredients, is kosher and permitted to eat. To that end, there are world-wide kosher systems who exercise supervision from the production level of the basic ingredients to the way the products are prepared for consumption. In this way it becomes possible for every Jew to examine whether or not the product in front of him is kosher to eat.
Apart from the benefit of maintaining the purity of the soul through the observance of Kashrut, there is another, very important benefit. A Jew who pays attention to Kashrut performs a daily practice of self-control.
We are all aware how the abundance and availability, along with the many blessings they contain, can represent significant challenges to self-control and delayed gratification. The more industry and technology advance, the more challenging it becomes to hold back and stand firm in the face of attraction with strong will. The solution to this is found in regular practice of self-restraint and acquiring the ability to control our desire and not fulfill it immediately. Every Jew who tries to be careful about Kashrut performs such a practice every day, often several times a day. This means that by paying attention to Kashrut, we become more stable, responsible, and moderate.
Eating Kosher also places limits on human control over the environment. We are so used to gaining control over what is around us. Is there any product that cannot be purchased? If in the past there were products that could only be purchased in a certain country, today, with a few keystrokes, a person can order an object from the end of the world that will arrive within a few days. Man feels that he manages and controls everything that exists around him, thereby inflating his ego. The consideration for others is trampled, the ecosystem is destroyed, and the man acquires a sense of ownership of reality.
On the other hand, a person who keeps kosher knows: I cannot eat this food, or I avoid drinking this drink. He is constantly reminded that he does not own everything – a reminder of humility in front of creation. Indeed, man is welcome to use and enjoy the environment, but he does not own it.
And finally, man is required to remember the deep difference between him and the animals: moral knowledge, conscience, and choice. Unlike the animals, man is able to put a barrier to his attractions and obey God’s command that forbids him to eat a certain food. This is the glory of man and his greatness.
Rabbi Refael Cohen