Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky, for "The Chumash
of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
"All hoofed animals that split the hoof and chew
cud - those you may eat."
"You are what you eat", goes the old cliche.
In fact, this saying happens to contain much truth. Indeed, it is partly
because of this concern that we are instructed to abstain from eating
certain animals whose traits we would not wish to incorporate into our
psyche. Kosher animals, on the other hand, are characterized by peaceful
traits that are worth imitating. (Cf. Ramban on Leviticus 11:12, et
al. See also Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah, end of 81.)
Even the signs that the Torah uses to identify kosher
animals contain profound insights into the way we ought to lead our
lives. Indeed, some authorities suggest that these signs are not only
incidental symptoms by which to identify kosher animals, but rather
the traits that make them kosher. But even if they are merely "incidental",
it is certainly no accident that these are the signs of the kosher animal.
What is it about these signs that we are to emulate? When an animal
is eaten, it leaves the animal kingdom and enters the realm of the human
When an animal is eaten, it leaves the animal kingdom
and enters the realm of the human by becoming the flesh and blood of
its consumer. However, entering the human realm may not always be a
step up for the animal. If the human it enters is not operating on the
level of a true human (i.e. the animal aspects of his being are more
dominant), then the animal has merely moved from one animal state to
another. Only when the human is in touch with his human-side, that aspect
of himself by which he can be described as reflecting the image of G-d,
can the animal he eats be elevated to a higher state.
The sign of whether one is operating on this optimal level
is the nature of his service to G-d. Is his divine service two-dimensional,
including both kindness and severity, love and awe - or is it one-dimensional,
limited to his natural tendencies and inclinations? Only when his "hooves
are split", i.e. his service is two-dimensional, including even
those areas where he is naturally not inclined to go, can the animal
he eats be elevated to the next level. The split hoof also signifies
the two-pronged approach necessary in dealing with earthliness
A student of a great rebbe had apparently become overly
immersed in his boot business. Said the rebbe: "Feet in boots,
I have seen, but a head in boots
?" The hoof is what separates
the animal from the earth, symbolizing the need for man to remain aloof
in his dealings with earthliness. Yet this barrier must be split through
and through to allow for the light of holiness to permeate even to the
most mundane aspects of Creation.
The split hoof also signifies the two-pronged approach
necessary in dealing with earthliness: to lovingly embrace those who
are estranged, while resisting the urge to water down the Torah to what
we imagine will be more appealing. As the great sage Hillel said of
Aaron the High Priest: "He loved people and brought them close
to Torah" - them to Torah, not the reverse.
Rumination, as its name suggests, is about chewing things
over in one's mind before entering the animalistic and mundane aspects
of life. What are my intentions here? Am I here to elevate, or, G-d
forbid, the reverse? Can this perhaps be done in a different way that
will better conform to the desire of my soul and Creator?
Split hooves and rumination also parallel the two general
aspects of the human experience: thought and deed. Rumination addresses
the inside of the human, the inner life of his heart and mind. The less
sophisticated hoof parallels man's physical actions, independent of
his inner workings. To create a complete human, both of these aspects
- the theoretical and the practical - must be kosher.
Copyright 2001 chabad of california / www.lachumash.org
Moshe Yaakov Wisnefsky is a scholar, writer, editor and anthologist. Originally
from Los Angeles, he moved to Israel in 1977, and currently lives in Jerusalem.
While living in Tsfat, he was one of the three founders of ASCENT in 1983.