Nourishing the Soul
There are so many things to discuss in this week's Parsha. However this parsha is the second source for the laws of kashrus. It is such a fundamental aspect of Jewish life that it warrants special attention. It is truly amazing that the fundamental law is considered a חוק, a statute, a law that does not have an essential reason that we can understand. Why should we deny ourselves all the good things that Hashem made? Even a better question is why did Hashem deprive us, his chosen people, from enjoying any pleasure that he created? I am strongly affiliated with many baalei teshuva who described for me the enjoyment they experienced in their former lives. We can repeat an answer that really underscores the whole gamete of our religion we are challenged to resist the temptations of this world. However the question is why! Certainly we cannot conclude that Judaism is an ascetic religion. It does not make sense. There is not an occasion, a holiday, a שבת in our religion that does not revolve around food. Apparently, that in itself is an answer to our question. We revolve so much around food that if there were no restrictions we would be consumed by eating. Even אדם the greatest of all men, Hashem's masterpiece failed by indulgence in food he was not allowed to eat. We can understand from this that taking control of one's indulgence is a counter measure to all the eating we do as Jews.
There is really another aspect to his as well. A Jew has to grasp that life although filled with a multitude of pleasures cannot overshadow our ultimate purpose, the service of Hashem. He certainly wants us to be happy enjoy life. However there is a great danger that this would become our ultimate endeavor and the essence of our existence would go lost. Therefore although Hashem would actually prefer to allow us to eat cheeseburgers if that would make us happy but there is no end to pleasure so by limiting our diet He keeps us focused on our ultimate goal.
The רמב"ן explains the מצוה קדושים תהיו the commandment to be holy is to avoid being a מנוול ברשות התורה. This concept adds a whole other dimension to Torah abstinence. The idea is to abstain to some extent from permissible pleasures such as overindulgence in kosher food. Even there one can get so preoccupied with all the eateries in ירושלים, the menu for שבת ויו"ט little time will be spent nourishing the soul. So then how does it work? Hashem make up your mind! If for example שבת is זכר למעשה בראשית then the hostess should serve all the family members and guests at the שבת table חמשים, a chumash to review creation every week so we will remember creation. What does the gefilte fish cholent and chopped liver have to do with this? The מסילת ישרים explains that since in our present existence we are body and soul there is no way to resolve the dichotomy without offering some consolation to the body. Once the body is satisfied, it will leave the mind, the soul to soar to great spiritual heights. That is also the reason we make Kiddush on a cup of wine. It is like high octane fuel to soar to great spiritual heights as soon as the שבת begins.
There is one other aspect that needs to be discussed. חז"ל compare gentiles to people who are terminally ill. The doctor does not describe a particular diet, any limitations on what they can eat because it will not make a difference. On the other hand a person who can survive even if somewhat ill the doctor will prescribe a special diet knowing that this could make a difference between life and death.
We cannot understand how certain limitations on food can affect our spiritual lives. The Beatles להבדיל אלף הבדלות understood this to some extent. They had a line in one of their songs "you know what you eat you are". We as Jews with particularly refined souls cannot tolerate a diet inconsistent with our lofty aspirations. We must stay away from carnivorous animals and birds because we cannot be too aggressive. Only passive defenseless birds can be brought as sacrifices. We have to say blessings before and after so that we think about Hashem when we eat and not only the food. Tom Brady, one of the great all-time quarterbacks in professional football stays in incredible physical shape by depriving himself many foods that other's enjoy. What do we have to eat to stay in spiritual shape? Only Hashem knows. That is why this is a חוק. Only He can know what is good for our refined נשמות. We have to believe that "Father knows best"!