This week in Parshat Shmini, we learn the signs of a kosher animal. The Torah tells us that we may eat any land animal that has split hooves and chews their cud (Lev. 11:3). We do not know the deeper reasons behind the mitzvot, but there is a way to understand these laws of kashrut that really speaks to me. It is based on a commentary I read in the Mei HaShiloach (vol. 1, Shmini, s.v. simanei behemah), a little bit of my own interpretation, and a discussion with a 4th grade student of mine, Livi Zakheim, at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School.
The two signs may hint at the direction we should live in our lives if we want to be kosher Jews. On the one hand, we want to have our hands open all the time and give to other people. Split hooves allude to this. Instead of clenching our fists (i.e., “cloven hooves”) and holding on to our blessings for ourselves, we must open our hands and share our goodness with others (“split hooves”). This is the kosher way, and this is why split hooves are a kosher sign!
However, when it comes to ourselves, we must shift our energy inwards. We must be happy and content with what we have, with what Hashem has given us. This is hinted at in the chewing of the cud. An animal that chews its cud enjoys its food. It then swallows it and regurgitates it once more and chews the food again. The cud-chewing animal is at peace with what it has and it is constantly benefiting from its food over and again.
It is okay, even encouraged, to keep progressing and finding new areas of growth in life, but we should always remember to be happy with what we have! Notwithstanding, when it comes to others, we must not be content! We must constantly strive to give and give some more, extending our blessings, with an open hand, to those in need.
Rabbi Dr. Eli Yoggev
Associate Rabbi of Baltimore’s Beth Tfiloh Congregation