Shmini

Vayikra 11:43-44
אל תשקצו את נפשתיכם בכל השרץ השרץ ולא תטמאו בהם ונטמתם בם
כי אני ה’ אלקיכם והתקדשתם והייתם קדשים כי קדוש אני
The Kli Yakar points out the difference in the wording used to describe the consequences/outcome of eating forbidden foods versus avoiding forbidden foods.
If we avoid the foods that Hashem has told us not to eat then there is a two-step process for ‘becoming holy’…
V’hitkadashtem refers to the actions we, on earth, take by avoiding such foods.The seemingly redundant v’heyitem kedoshim indicates that Hashem adds an extra level of help from above. He helps us further achieve the status of kadosh, to be more like Him, and we are specifically called kadosh. It becomes our essence.
There is a slight nuance in the language for when we do, chas v’shalom, eat non-kosher animals – the Torah does not say v’heyitem t’mei’im (that you, yourself become impure), rather it says “v’nitmeitem bam” – you are [i.e. your status is] rendered impure because of them.
The Kli Yakar provides an explanation for the difference, based on a saying of Chazal in Gemara Shabbos 104b: When we set out to do the proper thing, Hashem specifically helps us achieve it; but when we set out to do the wrong thing, the door is simply ‘left open,’ i.e. Hashem neither helps nor prevents the improper action from occurring. To quote the Gemara:
הבא לטהר מסיעין לו, הבא לטמא פותחין לו
Two lessons from this that stuck out in my mind were the following:
1. The Gemara’s saying seems to be a warning, not to actively (or even passively) put ourselves in a situation where we are likely to sin. Don’t assume you will come through clean on the other side. The door is left open for anything to play out, and it’s generally not a good idea to play with fire. Mind your surroundings; the places you find yourself; the company you keep.
2. Second, perhaps the fact that when we sin we are not labeled as “sinners” or “impure”, means that another door is “patuach” — the door of teshuva. We are not labeled as impure at our core – our halachic status has been rendered temporarily impure (which is an oversimplified term, but I think adequate for these purposes) on account of the impure food we have eaten, but it is not irreversible, and does not define who we are.
When we act improperly, we get away from ourselves and our status in the eyes of Halacha is (temporarily) altered, but our core (our cheilek Elokah mi’maalis intact. Teshuva is always an option.
When we do the correct thing, we are helped along by Hashem and we are elevated and labeled by our innermost quality and essence: Kadosh.
An additional thought offered by the Kli Yakar:
After commanding us not to eat animals and bugs that crawl on the earth, the Torah offers a seemingly overly aggressive and punctuated reasoning:
כי אני ה׳ המעלה אתכם מארץ מצרים להית לכם לאלקים והייתם קדשים כי קדוש אני
Why of all commandments – just to not eat certain animals – does Hashem reference the fact that He miraculously brought us out of Mitzrayim as the reasoning? What is the connection, and the significance of such a strong reference and reasoning?
The Kli Yakar answers that creatures that crawl on the ground, represent extreme closeness with the physical earth. Their entire body is pinned to the dust of the earth.
Humans (past the age of crawling) don’t walk on all fours; our lower body touches the ground, but our upper body, which houses our eyes, brain and heart, are separated from direct contact with the earth.
Hashem brought us out of a low place (Egypt) to the highest place (Eretz Yisrael), so that we could be different from animals, and even to live a more elevated existence than other human inhabitants of the Earth.
Food (second maybe to oxygen) is the most basic requirement for survival. Everyone must eat to survive. By setting special parameters for something so essential as food, we become separated and kadosh. No doubt that at times these rules can certainly feel cumbersome and limiting (finding kosher food dictates so much of how and where we travel), but I think the goal is to make us feel that we aren’t animals that can eat whatever and whenever they please.
Tehillim 81:11 (which we say every Thursday) says:

אָנֹכִי ה’ אֱלֹהֶיךָ הַמַּעַלְךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם הַרְחֶב פִּיךָ וַאֲמַלְאֵהוּ I am the Lord your G-d, who brought  you out of the land of Egypt, open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.
Hashem took us out of Mitzrayim, and charged us with the task of constantly trying to elevate ourselves, and perhaps the most basic way of achieving that is through our sustenance. We are to recognize and thank Hashem for taking us out of slavery and turning us into a nation, and part of how we accomplish this task, is by being mindful of what we eat. The reward is opening our “mouths wide” and Hashem “fill[ing] it”. We are especially mindful not to ingest those creatures that literally crawl on the ground, to remind us to avoid such items that can figuratively drag us down to the likes of Mitzrayim, and away from our ultimate destination as ovdei Hashem in Eretz Yisrael.

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