“Tell B’nei Yisrael: ‘These are the creatures you should eat.’”
– VaYikra 11:2”
When the Torah introduces the animals that we may and may not eat, it uses the expression “chayah.” Rashi explains this as a play on the word “chai,” meaning, “[you should] live.” He explains this according to the Midrash Tanchuma:
The Torah forbids us from eating non-kosher foods because we are fit to live for eternity. The nations of the world were created for their place in this world only. Therefore, it isn’t necessary for them to avoid non-kosher foods. But the Jews were created with a soul that will last forever, and so we are warned to avoid such foods.
This can be compared to a doctor who went to visit two critically ill patients. To the first one he gave strict instructions: “This you may eat; this you may not eat.” However, to the second patient he said, “You may eat whatever you like.” When questioned on the difference in directives, the doctor responded: “The first patient, while gravely ill, will recover. So it is imperative that he eat wholesome foods that will aid in his healing. The second patient will not survive. There is no point in his watching his diet. Let him eat what he enjoys.”
Since the Jew was given a soul that will last forever,
he must be very guarded in what he eats
With this mashal, the Tanchuma explains why the Torah forbids us from eating treif food. Since we were created to last for eternity, we must avoid those foods that will damage us. The nations of the world, in contrast, were only created for this world, so they can eat what they want.
This is difficult to understand. What comparison does eating non-kosher food have to a sick man eating a specific diet? The diet of healthful or non-healthful foods directly affects the health of a person. When a person eats wholesome foods, his body utilizes the nutrients and he gains strength. If he eats unwholesome foods, his body becomes weaker and he loses vitality. This is the way of the world. However, this has nothing to do with the dietary laws that the Torah sets down. The reason we don’t eat treif food is a chok, a law without a [given] reason, much like not wearing shaatnez or not eating chametz on Pesach. How can the midrash use this mashal of the diet of the two patients when it isn’t comparable to the nimshal?
A Fundamental Understanding of Man
The Chovos HaL’vavos (Shaar Avodas Elokim 3) explains that Hashem created man out of two very distinct parts – a nefesh ha’sichli (intellectual soul) and a nefesh ha’bahami (animal soul). Each has its desires and inclinations, and each is competing with the other, vying for primacy over man.
The seichel in man is what drives him to do all that is good and proper. It is the part of him that pulls him closer to Hashem. It is the force in him that hungers to help others. Everything that is noble, proper, and good in man stems from this side.
The nefesh ha’bahami, on the other hand, is comprised of the base instincts necessary for survival. This is a part of man just as it is in the rest of the animal kingdom. It is made up of hungers, appetites, and desires.
The seichel and b’heimah are constantly in competition with each other, and each is in a state of flux. Much like a muscle, each becomes stronger with use and atrophies with disuse. The more a person uses his seichel, the stronger and more dominant it becomes. The more he allows his passions and desires to rule, the stronger a hold they have on him. Man is engaged in a constant battle.
In this conflict, the b’heimah has an unfair advantage. It is in its element, and everything that we do constantly utilizes it and therefore strengthens it. All of man’s daily activities – from working for a living to eating and sleeping – are constantly nourishing the b’heimah side. Very little that a person does strengthens his seichel. And so by all rights, the b’heimah side of man should become ever stronger until it vanquishes the seichel.
For that reason, the Torah gave us strict instructions about which actions to engage in and which to avoid, as those actions give an undue strengthening to the b’heimah side of man.
How Treif Food Functions
Chazal tell us that “treif food deadens the heart.” When a person eats non-kosher food, he ingests that impurity into himself, so his b’heimah side becomes stronger, and it becomes more difficult for him to relate to anything spiritual. It becomes harder for him to learn, harder for him to daven, harder for him to experience Hashem.
When Chazal call not eating treif food a chok, this refers to how it functions. Why does milk cooked together with meat give an unfair edge to the b’heimah side? Why does ingesting blood make a person cruel? To understand how these things function, one must be a scientist of the soul – something that very few individuals in history were able to become. But that it works that way is a given. And for that reason, the Torah forbids us from eating various foods, wearing shaatnez, engaging in various physical relations, etc.
This seems to be the answer for this Rashi. The mashal is exact. Since the Jew was given a soul that will last forever, he must be very guarded in what he eats. Impure food will deaden that holy part of him; it will damage his soul. A gentile, on the other hand, was not created with that same purpose, so it doesn’t matter if he eats these types of foods or not.
This concept is very applicable to us in the sense that we often overlook our predisposition for greatness. Hashem created us with elevated souls, different from any of the other people who occupy this planet. We were created to live forever in an exalted and lofty state. We were given all of the inclinations and aptitudes to reach true greatness. Additionally, Hashem gave us the greatest guide to spiritual perfection – the Torah. If we learn to follow its ways and appreciate its systems, we journey forward on the greatest mission of man – the road to perfection.
Born and bred in Kew Gardens Hills, R’ Ben Tzion Shafier joined the Choftez Chaim Yeshiva after high school. Shortly thereafter he got married and moved with his new family to Rochester, where he remained in for 12 years. R’ Shafier then moved to Monsey, NY, where he was a Rebbe in the new Chofetz Chaim branch there for three years. Upon the Rosh Yeshiva’s request, he stopped teaching to devote his time to running Tiferes Bnei Torah. R” Shafier, a happily married father of six children, currently resides in Monsey.