This Shabbos we read Parshas Shemini. In the Parsha, the Torah instructs us regarding which animals can be eaten, and which animals can’t. For a kosher animal, there must be both split hoofs and it must chew its cud. A kosher fish must have both fins and scales. The Torah tells us by name which birds are not kosher.
The laws of keeping kosher are clearly one of the most telling marks of a Jew. We can’t buy so many common foods sold at the stores that we go to. Finding a restauraunt or fast food store that is kosher can be a challenge. Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, in his classic work Messilas Yesharim, notes how great a temptation non-kosher food is. We all have a natural desire for food that looks tempting. Indeed, this is the first thing the Torah tells us about the sin of eating from the tree of knowledge – that it was “tempting to the eyes”. When we notice a great looking steak, hear an ad about some sprumptious dish, or smell a freshly baked cake, we have a desire to partake of it. In addition, there is a cost factor in buying kosher food. The simple fact is, that having food production supervised to make sure it is kosher, costs money. Very often, especially when meat is being produced, special procedures are involved. Obviously this drives up the cost of kosher food. Another issue is that often for people who don’t live in a huge Jewish community, there are not so many kosher alternatives to be able to enjoy. We are surrounded with the choice of either caving in to the appeal of the non-kosher establishments around us, or to simply do without. What does a person say to themselves to help strengthen oneself and avoid eating these things?
Rav Luzzato says a beautiful thought. He points out that in a way, forbidden food is different than all other types of sin, for when we eat something that is forbidden, the food that we eat actually becomes part of us. This is a most sobering thought. Can one imagine making a rejected material part of our own body? In a beautiful analogy, he explains that we really have to treat non-kosher food as we would treat poison. Which person with even the smallest amount of common sense would eat poison because it “looks good”, or smells delicious? Who would buy it because it is cheaper? If we could only appreciate how non-kosher food is literally poison to our soul, if we can accept that there is damage of catastrophic proportions to ourselves when we eat it, then rejecting non-kosher food would become much easier. The temptation to run into a non-kosher restauraunt could hopefully be reduced to the temptation to buy a bottle of cyanide to eat because it is “cheaper” or looks appealing. If we can really look at this and realize this reality, then we will hopefully have an easier time staying away from any foods that are not kosher, and keeping our souls and bodies as pure as they really should be.