The Parsha this week is Parshas Shemini. At the end of the Parsha the Torah tells us in great detail which animals, birds, and fish are permitted to eat, and which are forbidden. The Gaon of Vilna explains with a small introduction, a beautiful leson in understanding which birds and animals that are kosher, and which are not. The root of all sin, explains the Gaon, is desire for more. The very essence of belief is that there is a Creator Who directs all happenings in life, and gives us exactly what is best for us. When a person is unhappy with what they have, and just desires more, that shows a lack of faith in G-d. This is why the very last of the ten commandments is “Lo Sachmode – do not desire”.
All birds of prey - who eat other living things are not kosher. The fact that they attack others shows that they have no trait of being satisfied with what they have. A person who eats them is affected by this and also becomes one who is unhappy with what they have.
In a similar way, the traits of chewing the cud and having split hoofs also show one who is happy with what they have. The symbolism of chewing the cud is being content with what one has. Instead of looking for something new, the animal reuses what it already has. This is just the opposite of desiring more.
When an animal has split hooves, as opposed to having claws, it is not able to rip apart other animals. Indeed, none of the kosher animals eat other animals.
This is the lesson we are to learn from the basic idea of what animals are kosher – the idea of trusting in Hashem and being happy with what He gives us.
The commentaries tell us at great length how keeping kosher is important to the very essence of the being of a Jew. When one eats food, the physical item ingested becomes part of the person eating it. If it is not kosher, his or her very being can thus be altered and affected. The opinions they formulate is affected by the very food that has become part of them. In Messilas Yeshorim / Path of the Just, the famous author Rabbi Luzzatto tells us that if one has a question regarding the kosher status of a food item, he should regard it as if he has a question regarding poison in a food. If a doubt of poison came up, would we be lenient in deciding whether to eat the affected food? Years ago, there was a scare of poison tainting Tylenol. Although the affected Tylenol seemed to all be in the Chicago area, people all across the country threw out their Tylenol out of worry that it might be contaminated. This, explains Rabbi Luzzato, is the way we have to feel concern for the food we eat to make sure it is kosher.