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Parashat Shemini

Dedicated in honor of my Eshet Chayil wife, Sylvi

by Joe Esses

Parashat Shemini

Accept the Almighty’s Will

This week’s parasha begins with the death of Aharon’s two sons, Nadav and Avihu. The Torah describes Aharon’s reaction to his sons’ death, “And Aharon was silent (10:3).” Rabbi Zelig Pliskin explains in his book, Growth Through Torah, that Aharon was greatly praised for his silence. It’s logical that only before something happens can one take action to prevent it. But afterward, there is nothing to do. It is a challenging task, but many sages were praised for accepting the Will of Hashem. Rabbi Akiva always used to say when something happened, “All that the Almighty does is good.” Nachum, Ish Gam Zu, used to say, “This, too, is for good.” Aharon, the first High Priest, stayed silent and that was admirable, but wouldn’t it have been better if he praised Hashem during this difficult moment?

When a person says, “Everything Hashem does is for the best,” about something that initially pained or frustrated him, it implies that at first, he looked at the situation as unfavorable, but he used his intellect to overcome the adverse reaction. Intellectually, he knows that all the Almighty causes to occur is ultimately for good, enabling him to accept the situation. But an even higher level is to internalize the concept that whatever the Almighty does is positive and good. When this is a person’s automatic evaluation of every occurrence, he does not have to convince himself that a specific event is good. Such a person accepts everything that occurs in his life with immediate joy.

This was the greatness of Aharon. He remained silent because he knew clearly that everything the Almighty does is purposeful. We should all strive to emulate this. Acceptance of Hashem’s Will is the most crucial attitude for living a happy life. The more we learn to accept the Will of the Almighty, the greater joy we will experience.


This week’s parasha also includes some of the most intriguing commandments and one of the most critical and dramatic proofs that Hashem is the indisputable Author of our Torah.

We learn from our kashrut laws that only four animals in the world have only one of the two signs of a kosher animal. In the thousands of years since the Torah was given to us, scientists have not found any other animals like this. This proves that Hashem wrote our holy Torah, because He’s the One who created the world and what animals He put in it!

The Torah describes the signs of a kosher animal. To be kosher, the animal must have split hooves and chew its cud. Then the Torah lists the four animals which have only one kosher sign. “This is what you shall not eat from among those that bring up their cud or that have split hooves: The camel, for it brings up its cud, but its hoof is not split. The hyrax, for it brings up its cud, but its hoof is not split. The hare, for it brings up its cud, but its hoof is not split. The pig, for its hoof is split and is completely separated, but it does not chew its cud (11:4-7).”

The Kli Yakar notes that the Torah goes through the trouble to list these animals’ kosher characteristics and then explains what they lack. This suggests that animals with one kosher element are worse than those without kosher signs. They are like people who make no real effort to behave well but make a big deal of publicizing their occasional good deeds or traits instead of concentrating on getting rid of their deficiencies. This “dishonesty” — flaunting their one kosher sign — labels these animals as non-kosher!

It’s a fantastic fact that no other animal has ever been found that fits the Torah’s description of the pig — having a split hoof but not chewing its cud! Of the four animals that are not kosher due to only having one kosher characteristic, the pig is the only one that has a split hoof. Pigs often stick out their legs to display their cloven feet and fool people into thinking they are kosher, even though they do not chew their cud. They look kosher on the outside but aren’t kosher on the inside.

It is not enough to have the outward appearance of an admirable person; one’s inner life is what counts. Our values and the things we strive to achieve make us who we are.

Eating Kosher is Humane

One of the hallmarks of Jewish law is extreme sensitivity to the pain of others. The mandate to minimize suffering extends even to animals, and it’s evident in our kashrut laws. Jewish law commands the kosher animal’s neck to be slit in a quick motion. Most mammals have two main arteries carrying blood to and from the brain. The carotid artery is in front of the neck, and the vertebral artery is in the back of the neck. When an animal’s neck is slit, the carotid artery is severed, but the vertebral artery remains intact. This means blood flows toward the animal’s brain, keeping it conscious and in pain until it bleeds out, which is inhumane.

Remarkably, out of the entire animal kingdom, only kosher animals possess a unique physiological trait. The circulatory system of kosher animals is designed so that both the carotid and vertebral arteries are in the front of the neck. When shechting a kosher animal, both arteries are severed, causing the animal to lose consciousness, resulting in a virtually painless death immediately. Of all the animals on the entire planet, only kosher animals have this quality. Such an unparalleled knowledge of our world clearly points to a Master Planner and Creator.

Eating Kosher is Good for Body and Soul

Pigs have a high-speed digestive system and can digest poisonous food without getting sick; that is why they eat garbage. The poisons are wrapped with fat and remain inside the body; anyone who eats pork will consume those toxins.

On the other hand, Kosher animals are herbivores and eat only grass or grain, which they digest slowly; therefore, they must avoid poisons. Lobsters and shellfish, also not kosher, roam the seabed and consume the refuse. Contaminated shellfish have caused almost instant death in countless cases.

Besides the health reasons that benefit us physically, our rabbis teach us that our kashrut laws primarily affect our spiritual well-being. Rashi explains that various animals are forbidden to Jews because our spiritual mission is to attach ourselves to the ultimate source of spiritual life, Hashem. These unkosher animals, if eaten, influence our neshama. Eating forbidden foods prevents us from learning Torah properly and dulls our senses. By observing the laws of kashrut, a Jew can pull himself up the ladder of kedusha. But if he ignores them, he will contaminate himself and eventually build up a barrier blocking his spiritual growth. This is called timtum halev, the dulling or polluting of the heart!

Kosher and Convenience

We learn throughout our Torah that Hashem elevated us to be a separate and unique people so we can be close to Him above all the other nations of the world. Dining has always been a social event, but our forefathers taught us that social dining and other types of assimilation destroy our purity as a holy nation to Hashem.

There is a story in Rabbi Nachman’s book Incredible! about a man named Joe Wallis. Joe was on his way home from work when he stopped by The Elephant Steakhouse, an unkosher restaurant in Tel Aviv, to get take-out for his wife and children. He could hear the sizzle of grilling meat and frying onions. He looked up at the pictures of food displayed above the counter, “Pork in a pita,” he thought. “The kids are going to love it.” He waited in line to place his order, a story he heard when he was a young child popped into Joe’s head. It was a story about his mother’s father, Rav Winkler.

When the Nazis came to Hungary and took the family away, his grandfather was sent to a labor camp instead of Auschwitz. The Rav was condemned to backbreaking work, terrible abuse, and starvation. Although almost everyone around him ate whatever they could lay their malnourished hands on, Joe’s grandfather never defiled his mouth with non-kosher food.

Time passed, and the inmates were gathered in a circle when the SS officer in charge began to speak. “Germany has lost the war,” he said. “The Russians will be here momentarily. You are about to become free men again. You will be reunited with your wives and children if they’re still alive. But before you leave, we have one final test before we unlock the gates. We’ve heard your Rabbiner Winkler is a man of principle. We need to find out just how strong-willed he is.” The Nazi grabbed Rav Winkler and forcibly maneuvered him to the circle’s center.

“Rabbiner,” the Nazi addressed his prisoner, “You want to go home like everybody else, don’t you?” The Nazi motioned to one of the officers, who walked over carrying a plate with a solitary piece of pork. “Rabbiner, you’ll be freed when you take a bite of this pork. You’ll walk through the gates and go home. Otherwise, you will be killed in this camp. The choice is yours. One bite is all it takes.” No one breathed as they waited. One bite of pork suddenly equaled life. What would the Rav do? “I will not eat this pork,” he said. The German shot Joe’s grandfather, and he crumpled to the ground, the final Jew to perish at that camp.

Joe came back to himself. “What on earth am I doing here, waiting to purchase meat my grandfather would rather die than eat? And I’m feeding my wife and children this food when I have the means to buy any food?” Joe stood in the middle of that busy, cheerful, nonkosher restaurant, unaware of anything but the incredible argument within him. On that humid summer evening, something changed in his heart, and Joe Wallis walked out of The Elephant Steakhouse with empty hands.

Joe, now Rabbi Yossi Wallis, became CEO of Arachim, the ultra-successful global kiruv organization. Rabbi Wallis has touched and transformed the lives of tens of thousands of Jews and has developed personal, warm relationships with many of our most outstanding Torah leaders, all because of the unexpected reminder of his Torah heritage while waiting in a restaurant for his unkosher sandwich.

Keeping Kosher

There’s a story told by Rabbi Frand of two successful Hungarian-Jewish merchants who were arrested by the Spanish Authorities during the Spanish Inquisition under false suspicion that their goods were smuggled or pirated. Due to the strong alliance between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Spanish Government did not incarcerate the two merchants During the Spanish Inquisition being a Jew was very dangerous. The government enforced harsh decrees forcing conversion or death to any Jew found. Therefore, the two Jewish merchants disguised themselves as Gentiles.

Each of the merchants was taken home and hosted by a customs official for lunch. The first merchant was seated at the table and served chicken and wine by the official’s servant. The merchant paled and hesitated, as he knew he must keep his Jewish identity a secret. Suddenly the customs agent got up and asked the merchant to follow him to the attic. There he asked the merchant if he was Jewish. Before the merchant could respond, the customs agent said, “So am I.” He explained that he was a descendant of the Marranos, Jews who outwardly converted but kept their Jewish identity a secret. The official bent down and extricated a shechitah – slaughter knife from the floorboards. “The chicken we are about to eat, I personally slaughtered it! Kosher L’Mehadrin!”

Later that day after the investigation concluded that there was nothing wrong with the merchandise, the two merchants met up. The Jew met up with his partner and asked him about his experiences. The second Jew was very distraught. He admitted that he had to eat non-Kosher meat to preserve his appearance as a non-Jew as it was a matter of life and death. The first Jew told his friend, “The same thing happened to me, but I had the unbelievable fortune of being hosted by a secret Jew who knew the laws of Kosher slaughter, and I was able to eat Kosher.”

When he returned home he asked the Chasam Sofer what was his sin that he was forced to eat non-Kosher and his partner was spared? The Chasam Sofer thought for a moment and replied, “G-d protects all those that are careful to only eat Kosher. ‘Measure for measure’ the reward for this is that the Almighty will see to it that you in fact never have to eat anything prohibited. Was there ever a time when you ate something with a questionable Kosher status?”

The merchant denied the thought, but after a while, he realized there was a questionable incident when he was newlywed. His wife was unsure of the Kashrut of the chicken she had purchased. Since her husband had learned the laws of slaughter, she asked him. It was a complicated case, and he was too embarrassed to admit that he was unsure, so he declared it Kosher. They ate the chicken.

We can see from here that Hashem protects all who strive to listen to the laws of Kashrut, even when it’s hard, inconvenient, or embarrassing. May we all realize that Hashem indeed runs the world and learn from Aharon to accept Hashem’s Will with joy immediately. May we also strive to keep the kashrut laws as they’re written in our holy Torah because those laws elevate us in both body and soul.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Amram Sananes, written by Jack Rahmey

Discussion Points:

· Can we remember a situation in which we accepted Hashem’s Will with joy?

· Are our kashrut standards at home, on the road, and at work up to par?

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Le’ilui Nishmat…

Eliyahu Ben Rachel

Rabbi Shimon Chay Ben Yaasher

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Sarah Bat Chanah

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Avraham Ben Mazal

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Moshe Ben Mazal

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Avraham Ben Mazal

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Chanah Bat Esther

Yaakov Ben Rachel

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Luratte Bat Masouda

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Uri Ben Rahel

Rivka Bat Dona

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Rachel Bat Sarah

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Rachel Bat Devorah

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