By Rabbi Yisroel Newman

Sedra-of-the-week-300x208Land animals that are permitted, or kosher, for Jews to consume are identified in this week’s Torah portion by two distinct characteristics.

First, the animal must bring up its cud and chew it. This means that after swallowing its food, the animal must regurgitate it from the first stomach to the mouth to be chewed again. This regurgitated food is called “cud.”
Second, the animal must have completely cloven hooves.

For example, the cow, goat, sheep and gazelle possess both these characteristics and are deemed kosher. The donkey and the horse, on the other hand, which do not, are defined as non-kosher. The pig, which has split hooves, but does not chew its cud, and the camel, which chews its cud but has no split hooves, are both non-kosher.

Why do these particular characteristics cause an animal to become kosher?

Kabbalah teaches that the physical attributes of an animal reflect the distinct psychological and spiritual qualities of its soul.

Another point expounded by the Jewish sages is that the food one consumes has a profound effect on one’s psyche.
Therefore, when a person eats the flesh of a particular animal, the “personality” of this animal affects the identity of the human consumer.

The split hooves and the chewing of the cud represent two qualities of the soul of these animals that are crucially necessary for the healthy development of the human character. When the Jew consumes the substance of these animals, he becomes a more “kosher” and refined human being.

Cloven hooves – the division existing in the coverings on an animal’s feet – are symbolic of the notion that one’s movement in life is governed by a division between “right” and “left”, between right and wrong, between the permissible and the prohibited. A split hoof represents the human capacity to accept that there are things to be embraced and things to be rebuffed.

This process of moral self-discipline is the hallmark of living a healthy psychological and spiritual life. A human being who allows himself to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, wherever he wants and with whomever he wants, robs himself of the opportunity to experience the inner music of his soul.

The second quality that characterises a “kosher” human being is he always chews his cud.

Even after a person absorbs and integrates into his life certain perspectives, attitudes and feelings, he must never become totally self-assured and smug about them. The spiritual human being needs to regurgitate his notions and ideas continually so they can be chewed and reflected upon again.

Man must never allow himself to become fully content in his own orbit. Contentment breeds smugness; smugness breeds boredom or arrogance. A person ought, until his last breath, to challenge himself, examine his behaviour and refine his character.

Yisroel (Teddy) Newman is a rabbi in New York. You can contact him on rabbi@askrabbiteddy.com and follow him on Twitter @askrabbiteddy