Thursday, April 16, 2015


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – ASHAR
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor


          My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, often reminisces about his relationship with Rabbi Alexander Rosenberg z’l, founder of the kashrus division of the Orthodox Union, and its administrator for thirty years. When he began working for the O.U.’s kashrus division, Rabbi Wein shared an office with Rabbi Rosenberg for a number of months.
          Whenever a proprietor would propose a new idea to Rabbi Rosenberg he would quietly listen without uttering a word. When the person finished, he would always ask, “Und vos zugt Gott- And what does G-d say?” Rabbi Wein would impress upon his students that a Jew should always live his life asking himself that question, “Und vos zugt Gott”. Ironically, we often don’t take G-d into the equation.
          In Rabbi Wein’s words, “While he was training me for the job before his retirement, he had impressed upon me the importance of our work. ‘Kashrus is more than checking chickens’, he used to say, ‘The job of the O.U. is to pay attention to G-d.  “Und vos zugt Gott” is the main concern. “What would G-d say about this?” That is the question that must always be answered before making any decision.”

          The conclusion of parshas Shemini discusses how to distinguish kosher animals from non-kosher animals. The Torah offers a detailed list of the credentials an animal requires to render it permissible for consumption.
          At the conclusion of those laws the Torah writes, “…And you shall not contaminate your souls through any teeming thing that creeps on the earth. For I am Hashem Who elevated you from the land of Egypt to be a G-d unto you; you shall be holy, for I am holy.”[1]  
          The gemara[2] states: The academy of Rabbi Yishmael taught, G-d said, "Had I not brought the people of Israel up from Egypt except for this thing, that they do not contaminate themselves via creeping insects, it would have been sufficient.” The gemara then asks, “Is the reward for refraining from impurity of creeping insects greater than that of refraining from usury, false weights, or wearing Tzitzis? The gemara answers, “Even though the reward is not greater, they are exceedingly disgusting to eat.”[3]
          What is the added merit of refraining from eating something because it is repulsive and disgusting?
          Kesav Sofer explains that ideally the reason why a Torah Jew refrains from eating crawling insects should not be because they are abhorrent, but because G-d commanded us not to eat them since they contaminate and enervate our souls. The goal of a Jew is to live his entire life as G-d commanded, because G-d commanded. In other words, the motive and driving force behind all of ones actions, even those actions that he would perform without the Torah instructing, should be because it is the Will of G-d. Ultimately, one must honor his parents, maintain his integrity in his business dealings, and seek to be a moral person, not because it makes sense, but because that is what the Torah demands. If one adheres to the Torah’s rulings only when he can comprehend the logic in doing so, he is perilously hovering atop a slippery slope.
          The reason why we practice the laws of kashrus has nothing to do with physical health[4]. We keep kosher simply because the Torah instructs us to do so.
          In a similar vein, our Sages state[5], “One should not say I could never eat the meat of a pig (i.e. because it is disgusting to me)… Rather he should say, ‘I would eat it. But what can I do? For my Father in heaven has instructed me not to’… Thus, one who separates himself from sin accepts upon himself the yoke of heaven.”[6]
          It is for this reason that there is (potentially) more reward for refraining from consuming insects then from refraining from usury, faulty weights, or wearing tzitzis. Most people would not entertain the notion of eating insects because the idea is utterly loathsome. But one who is able to instill within himself the notion that he doesn’t eat insects because that is G-d’s Will, has reached a far greater level.

          The holiday of Pesach is called, ”Chag Haemunah- the holiday of faith, and matzah is termed, “מיכלא דמהימנותא – food of faith.” The holiday which celebrates the revelations, miracles, and plagues that G-d demonstrated in Egypt at the time of the exodus, impresses upon us the Divinity, Omnipresence, and Omnipotence of Hashem, the One G-d.
Seder night is the jovial celebration of the transformation that occurred within us at that time. We were no longer slaves to Pharaoh and his tyranny. We became free men; free to be slaves to G-d. 
The final step of the Seder is “Nirtzah”, in which we sing lyrical songs which extol the greatness of G-d and our exuberance in becoming His Chosen Nation. One of those songs is, “Echad mi yodea – Who knows One?” Prima facie, it seems like a children’s song, with little profundity. But after an entire seder, replete with special mitzvos and a unique atmosphere, it if foolhardy to believe that we would conclude the glorious evening with children songs. What is the significance of this song?
A fellow once proposed the following question to Harav Gedalia Schorr zt’l: The gemara (Chullin 89a) states: “Techeiles[7] is similar (in color) to the sea, the sea is similar to the heavens, and the heavens are similar to the Throne of Glory.” Thus, the techeiles on one’s tzitzis are supposed to serve as a constant reminder to its wearer about G-d. Does any person really think in that manner – that the techeiles trigger images of the sea, which triggers images of the sky, which reminds him of G-d’s Throne?  
Rabbi Schorr replied, “The gemara[8] also states that it is forbidden to stare at colored clothing belonging to a woman because it may conjure up forbidden thoughts in his mind. That also seems a bit far fetched. But that point most people do seem to understand! Why isn’t that far-fetched? The reason is because we are easily reminded of things that we are focused on. That is the way our minds work.[9] When one allows himself to think about inappropriate things, even staring at certain clothing can trigger inappropriate thoughts. But one who is focused on G-d and His Service will be reminded of G-d when he sees the techeiles, even though it may be a far-fetched symbolism.”
 The whole sequence and process of Seder night guides us to realize the direct involvement that G-d maintains over every aspect of our lives. By the time the Seder is over we have hopefully been emotionally and spiritually elevated and are able to see our lives and the world in a different light.
Therefore, just prior to the conclusion of the Seder we start over. We go back to the most rudimentary level of learning that we are taught in our youth, i.e. the concept of numbers. But at that point the numbers take on new meaning. We do not see one apple, two giraffes, three buildings, and four airplanes. Rather, we see One G-d, two tablets, three Patriarchs and four Matriarchs, etc. After eating the ‘food of faith’, consuming marror which reminds us that even the bitterness of exile is divinely ordained, after relating all of the events leading up to the redemption, and singing hallel to G-d with joyful bliss, everything takes on higher meaning.  

Pesach does not end after the Seder is completed. The remainder of the holiday serves to instill within our psyche all of the lessons and levels we gained at the Seder, so that we can take them with us.
Pesach has come and passed - not passed by but passed through! Now we continue our trek towards reaccepting the Torah on Shavuos with a new perspective on life. After we ingrained within ourselves that there is but One G-d in heaven and earth, and that we follow his mitzvos simply because He commanded them, we can focus on the ever integral question - “Und vos zugt Gott!”

“For I am Hashem Who elevated you from the land of Egypt
“Techeiles… the Throne of Glory.”

[1] Vayikra 11:44-45
[2] Bava Metzia 61b
[3] In other words, it is unbecoming for a Jew to eat something which is repulsive. G-d took us out of Egypt so that we can become a holy elevated nation. By consciously refraining from eating disgusting foods, we demonstrate our greatness.
[4] There are certainly many aspects of Kosher which are logical and contribute to good health. Some examples: the prohibition against eating diseased and sickly animals, checking the inner organs to ascertain that the animal is not diseased, not eating meat from animals found dead, as well as checking all sorts of food in order not to ingest bugs and insects. Not mixing meat and milk and waiting between eating them also makes good sense from a health point of view, as each entails different types and rates of digestion. But all these are "fringe benefits."
[5] Sifra (Vayikra 20:26)  -
"אמר רבי אלעזר בן עזריה מנין שלא יאמר אדם אי אפשי לאכול בשר חזיר אי אפשי ללבוש כלאים אי אפשי לבוא על הערוה אלא אפשי אבל מה אעשה ואבי שבשמים גזר עלי תלמוד לומר ואבדיל אתכם מן העמים להיות לי נמצא הפורש מן העבירה מקבל עליו עול מלכות שמים".
[6] I often think about this statement during the summer, when I accompany my campers to a theme park on Trip Day. As the day wares on and hunger pangs set in, it is impossible not to smell the tantalizing aromas of the hot dog stands wafting through the air. At that point I am reminded of the words, “I would eat it. But what can I do? For my Father in heaven has instructed me not to”. 
[7] There is an obligation for a man to have a strand of techelis interwoven into his tzitzis. The techelies was a bluish dye created from a rare fish called the chilazon. There is much debate about whether we know what the chilazon is today.
[8] Avoda Zara 20b
[9]  For example, if a close friend/family member dies, G-d forbid, for some time afterwards anything can trigger a memory about the deceased.


Post a Comment