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Parshat Shemini (5762)

This week's section lists the animals that Jews are forbidden to eat.

Although the Torah was given some 3,300 years ago in the isolation of the Sinai Desert, it is amazingly accurate here. It informs us that The Hare the Rabbit and the Camel are the only animals in the world that chew their cuds and don't have split feet, and the Pig is the only one that has split feet and doesn't chew its cud.

(Parenthetically, a Moslem man once wrote me an email victoriously declaring that he asked expert veterinarians and even professors and they all told him beyond any doubt that the rabbit and the hare definitely do NOT chew their cuds! Of course I was stunned. What could I say against all these experts?

Then I remembered that there is a pet store in the large outdoor market where I go every Friday in Tel Aviv to put Tefillin on Jews. Usually the owner, a non-observant Jew, is very unreceptive and downright rude to me, but I figured he was the one to ask. So the next Friday I stopped in his store and when I asked him my question the strangest thing happened.

He stopped what he was doing. Looked up at me in the friendliest way and said, "Isn't that the most amazing thing! YES, it does! The rabbit chews its cud!"

Then he smiled, leaned over the counter to me and said. "You know it's the most incredible thing how the Torah covered all the animals in the world in just a few sentences. Only G-d could do a thing like that!" I thought to myself that maybe G-d did it just so this fellow would also find something in the Torah.

(By the way, I wrote my findings back to the Moslem and he never got back to me.))

But in this week's section we see a strange thing. The Torah gives the reason why these animals are forbidden: They don't have split hooves and chew their cuds (11:3).

This is not so clear. Maybe if G-d forbade pigs because they wallow in filth or rabbits because they live in holes it would make a bit of sense, but what is so bad about not having split hooves or not chewing the cud?

To understand here is a story that is well known in Chabad circles.

This story takes place some 150 years ago in the days of the third Chabad Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek.

It was well after midnight, and the Chassidim had been sitting together in the "Farbrengen" for most of the night, when suddenly they realized they were out of "farbisen".

[Chassidim are Jews that devote their lives to trying to love G-d, the Torah and every other Jew. This is not easy - it demands a lot of very positive thinking and for this purpose they often make informal get-togethers called "Farbrengens" where they sing, say inspiring stories and words of Torah, and say "L'chaim" (drink vodka). But after taking a drink of Vodka it is necessary to eat a little something, some type of food to ease the sharpness of the drink. And without that food (called "farbisen") the Vodka is unbearably harsh thus endangering the continuation of the Farbrengen. Now, back to the story.]

They pooled their money, and one of them ran to wake up the butcher who responded nobly and provided them with a fine cow liver. The butcher's wife was nice enough to cook it for them, and in an hour the Chassid, pleased with his accomplishment, brought it back to his friends.

When they saw the platter with the liver on it being placed on the table they were happy. It put a new life into the Farbringen and they broke into song while one of them got a knife to cut it into smaller pieces.

Suddenly one of the Chassidim by the name of Shmuel Munkis, known for his genius and his lively sense of humor, stood from his place, grabbed the platter with the liver on it, lifted it from the table and unexplainably began running around the table holding it high over his head!

The Chassidim began yelling at him. "Hey! Put it down! What the....are you crazy!!? You're going to drop it!! Stop acting like a fool!!"

But they couldn't stop him; he wouldn't listen to reason and he was simply too quick for them.

Suddenly he ran to an open window and threw the entire thing outside into the mud and filth!! This was no joke!!

The other Chassidim were astounded. What had he done!! He was certainly no more drunk than they were, and he certainly knew what he was doing. It was a sin to waste food in such a fashion! That liver cost them their last few kopeks, and now the farbringen was destroyed!

Everyone was furious. Someone grabbed him by the lapels and began shaking him, "What did you do? You fool! You wasted all the food, and what about the money we paid?!"

Suddenly the door burst open and everyone turned around. It was the butcher; and he was obviously out of breath and looked like he was half insane. He was waiving his hands, shaking his head wildly and trying to say something but all that came out was this strange wheezing sound.

In a few seconds he came to himself and gasped, almost in tears


"Why not!?" the Chassidim asked almost in unison.

"Because it's not kosher!!" he pleaded. I made a terrible mistake and gave you a non-kosher piece of meat!! Oy! I ran here as soon as I realized it. Am I too late? What a mistake. Oy! G-d forbid!!"

The Chassidim looked at Rav Shmuel Munkis and said angrily, "Are you trying to play Rebbe or something? Why didn't you just tell us you thought something was wrong? Why did you make us run around like chickens?" They were even considering punishing him for his "Chutzpa" (cheek), until he yelled out.

"One minute!! You have it all wrong! The reason I did it was because the Rebbe told me to!"

Now they thought he was really insane. "The Rebbe told you to throw the liver out the window?!" Someone asked incredulously. "Do….do you really expect us believe that?! Do YOU really believe it??"

"Yes!" answered Rav Shmuel. "It's true!! Five years ago I was in private audience (Yechidut) with the Rebbe and he told me that anything that really aroused my desire I should avoid as though it was forbidden.

"When that liver was put in the center of the table I suddenly came alive! I don't remember ever having such a desire. I simply could not control myself. I tried to leave the table but just wanted a piece of that liver. So I picked it up and threw it out the window! After five years I finally understand what the Rebbe was talking about. He just saved us all from eating treif (unkosher) meat!!"

So now, maybe we can begin to understand the meaning of chewing the cud and split hooves.

Chewing the cud in our personal lives means not immediately swallowing every idea and accepting every impulse that comes to us, but rather chewing and re-chewing it; being completely sure it is according to the Torah. Something like what the Rebbe asked Rav Munkis to do.

Split hooves means almost the same thing; that the lowest part of our lives should be open in such a way that what is above shines through. In other words, that not only should everything we do in this physical world be according to the Torah but we should THINK about HaShem when we do it.

This is the secret of kosher foods; and why it is one of the main things that separate the Jews from the other nations (Shemini, 11:45). And this is for two reasons.

Firstly; while the other nations are not restricted to what they eat (save the fact that it cannot be from a living animal) we are very much so, for instance the animals must chew their cuds and have split hooves.

And secondly; the Jews have to be very careful that they themselves "chew their cuds" and have "split hooves"! Not only must their deeds and speech be according to what the Creator wants, but even their thoughts (Kavannot) must bring G-dliness into the physical world. In other words; with the intention of bringing Moshiach.

ONLY Moshiach will, as Maimonides says in the end of his masterpiece, fill the world with the knowledge of G-d so there will be no war, strife, hunger or hardship.

We NEED Moshiach NOW!!

Copyright © 1999-2018 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.

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