Parashah of the week: Shemini

“Any animal that has a cloven hoof that is completely split into double hooves and which brings up its cud that one you may eat” Leviticus 11:4


In this week’s parashah we read about the criteria for what makes a mammal kosher, namely having both split hooves and chewing the cud.

There are three types of mitzvot in the Torah — edot, mishpatim and chukim.

Edot are laws which bear witness or testament to a particular event or occasion, for example the laws of Shabbat, Pesach, tefillin, brit milah and more.

Mishpatim are mitzvot which are statutory in general society — civil laws which many societies enact, such as business ethics, laws against causing harm or loss of life, laws against cheating and stealing.

Chukim are mitzvot which have no obvious logical reason but are performed because Hashem told us to do them in His Torah, for example not mixing milk and meat, not mixing wool and linen and many kashrut laws. We show our faith by doing so.

The kashrut laws are mainly chukim. They are not actually based on food safety or hygiene, but esoteric spiritual considerations, and if the Almighty had told us to eat pork, then the rabbis would make up nice sermons and inspiring talks about eating pork.

So, with that caveat — that the kashrut laws are not logical, or for a specific rational reason — we can still learn something from them.

What do we learn from the laws pertaining to mammals?

A kosher animal has split hooves and chews the cud.

Chewing the cud suggests someone who takes time to chew over things. A person who doesn’t just say the first thing that comes to mind but takes time and effort to consider and measure their words with great care.

What about the split hooves? The hoof connects an animal to the ground. On the one hand, we need to be grounded. We need to live in the real world. It is no accident that many mitzvot involve physical objects or everyday activities, because we are charged with bringing sanctity into ordinary life. So, we need to be grounded and realistic, but on the other hand if we are too grounded and have no higher aspiration or purpose, we are not living our best spiritual lives either. We need that split hoof — to be connected to the ground but with a certain degree of separation that allows for higher aspirations.

This is what makes a kosher species and these are good qualities for us to emulate.

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