Parshas Matos and Masai

This week’s Parsha is Parshas Matos and Masai. In Parshas Matos the Jews are told to wage war against the Midianites, to avenge the terrible calamity that the Midianites had brought upon the Jewish people. The Jewish soldiers were very successful, and returned with a tremendous amount of booty. Included in this were various types of utensils that were used to prepare food. Now the Jews were free to keep these utensils for their own personal use, except for one problem: The utensils had previously been used to prepare non-kosher food items. Here the Torah introduces us to the concept of koshering utensils. Any utensil that had been used to cook non-kosher food, had to be purged of all absorptions that were in it. If a utensil was used directly on the fire, it had to be koshered by passing directly through the fire. For example, a BBQ grill, or something used to hold food on a grill, had to be put directly in a fire to purge it. A utensil that was used to cook in, such as a pot used to cook soup, could be koshered by being put into boiling water. These laws are kept to this day, as any time we have a utensil that was used for non-kosher use, we must kosher it by purging it of its absorptions in the prescribed manner.

There is another detail to the law of koshering utensils. We are taught that when we want to kosher utensils, we must first prepare the utensil. Before we can worry about the actual utensil, anything that is stuck to it on the outside must be removed. That is, any rust, any dirt, or any foreign object on the outside of the utensil must be taken off before koshering it. This is to enable the koshering to take effect. If there is a foreign object on the utensil, that will block the absorptions from being purged and leaving the utensil. This can be a very painstaking process. Utensils that have had heavy duty use in commercial kitchens may have to be scrubbed for hours to be clean enough to kosher. Only after they are actually clean, can the koshering process take place.

On a simple level, the idea of this law is simply to enable the absorptions to be removed from the utensil in the koshering process. However, there is another idea in this law of cleaning a utensil before koshering it, teaches the Chofetz Chaim. The concept of koshering a utensil is related to the concept of a person “koshering” or fixing up themselves. If a person wants to improve, to change, to rectify mistakes that he or she has made, they must first remove any extraneous matter attached to themselves. That is, they must first stop doing what they had done wrong in the past. Only after that happens, and after have fixed the current way they are acting, can they approach the past and try to rectify it. When the “utensil”, or person, has no extraneous or incorrect things stuck to themselves right now, they can purge past absorptions that may have crept into their inner self.

Going one step further, the laws of koshering utensils teach us that it’s not enough just to use kosher ingredients today. If the pot that we are using is not kosher, it will affect the kosher food that is prepared in it, and make it not kosher. Similarly, if we want to come close and relate to G-d, it’s not good enough simply for us to do the right things today. We must correct ourselves, fix ourselves up, so that all actions that we take are not “cooked” in a “vessel” that is unfit for His use.