I have a Muslim friend and colleague, and given we are the only ones in the office not partaking of the frequent handouts of ham sandwiches and pepperoni pizzas, the discussion of “why not” is oft repeated. And whereas my colleague proudly states that he refuses to partake of unclean animals, I can’t help but sympathize with those who then proceed to pummel all over his argument.
I don’t believe non-kosher animals are unclean. Rather, I believe the non-kosher foods spoken of in this week’s parsha “do not cause physical harm; rather, they prevent the heart from achieving its spiritual goals” (Sefer HaChinuch).
One of the threads that binds the Jewish people is the notion that we’re all searching for something. Among my many quirks as a teen was becoming a vegetarian. In my early years of Shabbat observance, I sat at the table of a Chassidic butcher. I braced for his reaction.
No laughter, no derision. He told me he believed that by not consuming non-kosher meat, my soul was more spiritually aware, capable of bringing me closer to Judaism and God Himself. Some might find the term “spiritually aware” out of place or not something they’re used to associating with Judaism. The question comes from those who believe “spiritual awareness” is not something that comes through diet, that we can only achieve such a lofty state through meditation and solemn contemplation.
But our holy Torah proudly proclaims in this parsha, after explaining at length many of our laws of kashrut, “You shall become holy, for I am holy” (Vayikra 11:45). Siduro shel Shabbat explains that “to become holy, one must first sanctify himself through the ‘lowly’ things of this world, such as behavior and morality. Only this decent type of individual receives assistance from above.”
I am not opposed to meditation. However, a little time on this world has shown me that greatness in life is not achieved through meditation but rather through placing depth and meaning into everyday actions: taking the seemingly mundane and filling it to the brim with holiness.
On Purim we have two obligations to give: one to those less fortunate than ourselves and the other to someone with whom we are close. And then there’s the feast. And therein lies the true magic of the day: how we conduct ourselves while eating and drinking, whether or not we choose to let these actions pull us down or assist us in letting our souls shine forth, shine the brightest light on our true spiritual selves.
May our every action, great or small, overflow with spiritual bliss.
Yitzchak Jaffe is a former resident of Baltimore and teacher at Beth Tfiloh. He now lives in Kansas City, Kan.