Parshas Shemini begins with the consecration of the Mishkan, and goes through the process of Moshe handing the reins over to Aharon and his sons. The rest of the parsha discusses what makes an animal fit to eat. In plain English, it discusses what makes an animal kosher. We are also given numerous examples of both kosher and non-kosher cattle, birds, beasts, and bugs.
The idea of Kosher was and still is an original idea. While other religions have also adopted some dietary laws, and society in general has developed a system of healthy eating, the Torah’s reason for eating kosher is an idea of its own. The simple explanation behind it is there are certain animals which are ‘impure’ and others who are ‘pure’. As a holy nation special to God, Hashem wants us to only partake of animals that will maintain our standards of purity, allowing us to stay close to Him. While there are a few animals of which we have some idea, for the most part, we don’t know what makes one animal kosher and the other not. All we know is what the Torah tells us.
Still, there are certain aspects of animal kashrus which we can understand; specifically, different characteristics that would show certain animals to be more or less spiritual, thereby leading to different halachos applying to them. The Kli Yakar brings several examples of this. The first one explains the difference between cattle/wild animals and birds. When telling us which birds are kosher, the Torah lists only the non-kosher ones, implying that there are more kosher ones, making it easier to tell us the non-kosher ones. While listing the wild animals however (in Sefer Devarim 14), only the kosher ones are listed, implying there are more non-kosher ones. He explains that birds have the ability to soar above the ground, scraping the heavens. They are not trapped by the heaviness, the complete physicality, of the ground. Therefore, it is easier for them to be Kosher, pure. Animals are stuck on the ground, they have no ability to reach above the physicality all around them. Therefore, it’s more difficult for them to be kosher, and as a result, less of them are.
The Kli Yakar takes this idea further, to the halachos of Shechita, Slaughtering. A standard shechita involves cutting through both the animal’s windpipe and the esophagus. By cattle, this is a requirement. By birds, however, if you end up only cutting one, it is still good. Fish require no shechita at all! What is the difference between these animals that leads to these different levels of slaughter? He explains by building off our earlier explanation. Cattle were originally created from the ground and spend their lives on the ground. They have the most amount of impurity among creations, and therefore require a full shechita to remove it. Birds were created and spend some of their time on the ground, but at the same time, they soar above the land into the heavens. As a result, they have less impure physicality to remove; and while cutting both is ideal, if only one pipe is cut, the shechita is good.
Fish were created and spend all their time in the water. Water is the closest thing we have to a physically spiritual form of matter. There is much to discuss with water and its connection to spirituality, but the relevant ideas to us are, that we use it to purify ourselves in the form of a mikvah; the Torah is compared to it in the way that we can’t survive without water, so too we cannot survive without Torah; lastly, perhaps the weightlessness you feel in water is actually a form of separation between yourself and the physicality of the surrounding world. Therefore, fish require no shechita at all; there is very little physicality for them to separate from.
These are just a couple of the ideas discussed behind the laws of kosher animals. Many of the ideas are on a deeper level, such as these, but there are many others out there on higher or lower levels of understanding. However, one thing is not in doubt, there is no shortage of wisdom to our amazing Torah.
Click here for last year's Dvar Torah for Parshas Shemini
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