Kashrut is a difficult commandment to understand. Why is it that we can only eat certain animals, and they have to be slaughtered in a certain way, etc? How can we understand this request of Hashem to only eat kosher food? Why do we do it?

When the Torah gives us a list of the creeping animals like snakes and snails and slugs and whatever else that are not kosher, we are told a reason why we can't eat them:

You shall not make your soul impure through any creeping thing that creeps on the earth. For I am Hashem who brings you up from the land of Egypt to be a God unto you; You shall be holy, for I am holy. (Vayikra 11: 44-45)

There seems to be a sentence out of place in this answer….

What does the fact that Hashem brought us up from the land of Egypt have to do with kashrut? Is Hashem saying to us that we should keep kosher because we 'owe' Him one? It doesn't seem likely that Hashem needs to ask us for a favour here to keep kosher for Him. He never asks us for any other favours at other times in the Torah! If He wants us to keep something He just tells us what to do. Why here all of a sudden is Hashem giving us this guilt trip that we should keep kosher 'for Him', because otherwise we'd still be slaves in Egypt, and really we owe Him one?

In short, what does going out from Egypt have anything to do with keeping kosher?

According to the Jewish calendar, we've just left the month of Nissan, in which we had Pesach, and entered the month of Iyyar. Nissan was the month we left Egypt, and that's why we celebrate Pesach in Nissan, on the 15th, the night of our redemption from Egypt. During Iyyar we count the omer, which eventually leads us up to Shavuot, which will be next month, in the month of Sivan.

The mystics say that every month in the Jewish calendar has a different nature, a different energy, and that if we are sensitive enough to these things, we can actually tap into that energy and use it in our own lives. You can see it clearly in the different festivals of each of the months. For sure, the energy of Nissan is related to redemption and freedom, being the month of Pesach and our exodus from Egypt.

There is a trick to working out what the energy of each month is: The mystics gave each month a letter from the aleph-bet, and that letter describes the energy of that month, and so it can help us to understand what the energy of each month is.

What is the energy of the month of Iyyar that we've just started?

The letter of this month is the letter vav. Vav, as you probably know, always means 'and'. It's a connector. If I say in Hebrew "ze V'ze", it means "this AND this". Vav means "and". That is the nature of Iyyar. It is a connector between the two months around it. It connects Nissan, when we left Egypt, to Sivan, when we stood at Mt Sinai and received the Torah.

Hashem told Moshe explicitly in the Torah, the whole purpose of taking us out of Egypt was to get to Mt Sinai where we could receive the Torah. That's why we count the Omer from Pesach through the month of Iyyar and finishing on Shavuot - we are connected the beginning and end of one process. The end of that incredible journey, was Hashem speaking to us, as an entire nation, 'face to face' at Mt Sinai. The Torah tells us He gave us the first two of the ten commandments personally. Everyone who was there heard Hashem speak directly to him or her. It was only after we almost died hearing G-d's booming voice that the nation went to Moshe and told him to take care of the rest, because they just couldn't handle it any longer. But what a journey! What a height they reached at Mt Sinai! Nothing like that has ever, or will ever, occur again. Hashem revealed Himself to our entire nation face to face. When something like that happens, you change spiritually. You reach a height that you could never have imagined before. All of a sudden you understand what it means to be holy. You can relate to living on that level in a way you never could before. When the Torah mentions leaving Egypt as the reason for us keeping kosher, it could just as easily have mentioned receiving the Torah on Mt Sinai – they are simply two parts of the same journey.

The word 'pure' in Hebrew is Tahor. To be pure is to have an open and clear connection to Hashem, to the source of life. The stronger that connection, the more pure you are.

The word 'impure' in Hebrew is Tameh. To be impure is to close that connection to the Source of Life - Hashem. The more closed and clogged it is, the more cut off something is from Hashem, the more tameh, or impure it is. That's why anytime you find a loss of life you find tumah, impurity. A dead body is impure, and you become impure if you touch it, because death is the ultimate disconnection with that Source of life. A woman is impure during her menstruation period, because there is a loss of potential life there as the ovaries do their thing…without getting too technical.

Look again at the verses that tell us not to eat impure animals:

You shall not make your soul impure through any creeping thing that creeps on the earth. For I am Hashem who brings you up from the land of Egypt to be a God unto you; You shall be holy, for I am holy.(Vayikra 11: 44-45)

There are certain animals that are considered impure, and when we eat them, they cause a disconnect from Hashem. It is because of Hashem taking us out of Egypt that we have to safeguard ourselves from these impure foods. When we received the Torah He raised us to such a high spiritual level, and made us so pure, and gave us such a strong connection to Him, that we need to be ultra careful not to destroy that connection. That's why here the Torah says 'who brings you up', whereas usually it would say 'who brought you out '. Here the Torah it trying to emphasise that at Mt Sinai we were raised up to an incredibly high spiritual level.

That's why we can't put into our system anything that might damage that connection. We are a highly trained and complex purity machine. Just like an expert wine taster is not allowed to eat chilli or onion because he will destroy his tastebuds, and a supermodel is not allowed to eat….well, anything, because she will lose that fantastic figure, us Jews can't eat shrimp, pork, or anything non-kosher. Just like some foods will destroy your tastebuds and others will make you fat, some of them will destroy your soul, and leave you with bad reception when you feel like connecting to your Creator.

Every athlete has his special diet to maintain high performance. We're no different. We're just spiritual athletes, so we need a spiritual diet.

To finish with a story from the Rambam that illustrates our point.

The Rambam for a short period in his life started corresponding with a rabbi who lived in another country, no where near where he lived. They exchanged letters for a while and a few different Torah ideas, and then this rabbi decided to write down his personal thesis on the meaning of Judaism, and send it to the Rambam, which he did. The Rambam received it, read it, and sent back a letter telling this man to look into the town's shochet. The shochet is the guy who is in charge of slaughtering the kosher meat in the kosher way.

As you can imagine, the rabbi was bewildered with the Rambams strange reply but of course he did look into the matter, and he found that the town's shochet had actually been killing the cattle in a non-kosher way! He wrote back to the Rambam letting him know what he had found, and asked the Rambam to please let him know……how on earth had he known the shochet was not 'kosher'?

The Rambam wrote back a very short reply: When I read you're 'thesis' about Judaism, I realized that to have made such mistakes, the food you are eating can't be kosher.

At Mt Sinai Hashem raised us up to a level of purity, of tahara, that no one else has ever experienced. He gave us a gift – a completely clear and strong connection to Him. What a tragedy it would be if we close that connection and block ourselves off from Him by filling ourselves with impurity. Rather, now that we have experienced holiness, He says to us: You shall be holy, for I am holy. Once you have reached this great level, stay with it!

Remember, you are what you eat.

Shabbat Shalom!

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