Parshas Shemini-Likkutei Sichos: Emulating the kosher signs of the kosher foods that you eat

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Parshas Shemini

Emulating the kosher signs of the kosher foods that you eat

(Likkutei Sichos Vol. 1)

This week’s Parsha, Parshas Shemini, is one of the two portions of the Torah which discusses the Kashrus laws, the living creatures that one is permitted to eat and those which are forbidden. Famously, the Torah gives us two signs for all kosher animals, one being that it chews its cud and the second being that it has split hooves. All kosher animals must have both signs for them to be deemed as kosher. In this talk, the Rebbe delves into the meaning behind these signs and if they have any interconnection with the nature of the animal hence deeming it kosher, or if they are simply external signs to reveal to us their kosher status and have nothing to do with their nature. After explaining the ramifications between the two different approaches, the Rebbe brings proofs for the former approach showing that the signs are intrinsically part of the kashrus status of the animal. The Rebbe then goes on to explore the spiritual correspondence of the kosher signs in a Jews divine service to G-d. The same way we are required to eat only from animals that have split hooves and chew their cud, so too we are required to emulate these signs in our own service of G-d. How we do so, we will explore in this talk.


Explorations of the Sicha:

  1. Do the two signs of the kosher animal contain intrinsic value or are they simply a sign for purposes of distinction?
  2. What is the law of a kosher animal that was born with a defect, and does not have split hooves or does not chew its cud?
  3. How can a Jew emulate the kosher animals by having split hooves and chewing his cud in the service of G-d?

1. An inquiry -Do the two signs of the kosher animal contain intrinsic value or are they simply a sign for purposes of distinction?

All kosher animals must both chew their cud and have split hooves to be kosher. There is a famous philosophical inquiry on this subject regarding if the kosher signs contain intrinsic value and are the reasons behind the kosher status of the animal, or if the kosher signs have no intrinsic value and are simply signs of distinction to tell which animal is kosher.[1] In other words, is the animal considered kosher and allowed to be eaten by a Jew because it contains the physiological aspects of chewing its cud and having split hooves, and if it doesn’t contain both of these aspects than it is considered not kosher in nature. Or, do we say that the status of kosher versus nonkosher animals has nothing to do with their signs, and kosher animals are essentially kosher while nonkosher animals are essentially not kosher, and it happens to be that G-d created the two signs to help us determine which animals are kosher and which are not. Meaning, it is not the signs that make them kosher, as they are intrinsically kosher on their own, and the signs simply reveal their intrinsically kosher status. [To explain this using concepts of Chassidus and Kabbalah: All kosher animals derive from the impure Kelipa named Kelipas Nogah, which contains both good and evil. Nonkosher animals, however, derive from the three completely unclean Kelipos which do not contain any good at all. Now, the above question inquires as to whether the physical nature of chewing its cud and having split hooves is what causes the animal to derive from Kelipas Nogah, and lack of both of these natures cause it to derive from the three completely unclean Kelipos, or if the kosher animals essentially and intrinsically come from the Kelipas Nogah and the signs simply reveal that to us? The same question applies by the nonkosher animals, do they essentially and intrinsically come from the three completely unclean Kelipos, and the lack of the two signs simply reveals that to us, or is the lack of the signs the reason and cause that makes them come from the three unclean Kelipos. Is there anything special about the signs that causes the animal to come from good versus complete evil or are the signs completely unrelated? That is the question of the above inquiry.]

2. The ramification in a case that a kosher animal was born without the two signs:

The law is that if an animal was born from kosher animal parents, without the two signs, such as if a cow was born with a defect that it does not contain split hooves, it nevertheless remains kosher.[2] The reason for this is because we have a rule which states that whatever was born from a pure animal is pure, even if it does not have the two signs. Now, the following ramification in the understanding of this law apply between the two approaches:

According to the approach that the signs are simply external revealing factors, and do not intrinsically affect the kosher status of the animal, this law makes perfect sense, as in a case that we know that the deformed animal was born from kosher parents, its signs are not necessary, as the signs are not intrinsically responsible for its Kashrus status. However, according to the approach which holds that the signs are an intrinsic part of its kosher nature, this law does not make any sense, and the only way to accept it is by saying that it is a decree of the verse that defies logic, known as a Gezeiras Hakasuv. Now, whether we accept this law as logic or as a decree of the verse carries with it the following practical Halachic ramification regarding the laws of playing with a kosher animal.

3. The ramification regarding if one may play with a kosher animal that does not contain the two signs:

The law is that it is forbidden to waste kosher food and use it for a non-eating purpose, while nonkosher food does not contain this prohibition. Hence, the Jerusalem Talmud[3] states that while kosher food is forbidden to be used for playing purposes, nonkosher food may be used for playing. Now, the Talmud asks based on this rule as to why the verse[4] states that in the future it will be permitted to play with the Levyatan fish, if after all it is a kosher species, and it answers that the reason is because it is not really considered a kosher species and was simply given an allowance of exception by the Torah.

From here we can deduce that according to the approach that the two signs are not intrinsically required, and hence the kashrus status of a mutated kosher animal born without the kashrut signs, is perfectly logical, then this defective animal would also fall under the prohibition of playing with it. However, according to the approach that the two signs are intrinsically required in a Kosher animal, it is only considered kosher due to a decree of the verse which made an exceptional case, then it would be permitted to play with this animal just as the Talmud states that it is permitted to play with the Levyatan fish.

4. A proof of the approach that the signs are intrinsically required:

There are several proofs that can be brought to show that the signs are an intrinsic requirement for the kosher animal, and it is due to these signs that it is deemed kosher. First of all, so is implied from the wording of Scripture which states that the animal may be eaten “because it chews its cud and has split hooves.”

A second proof can be brought from the following law: A discussion is recorded in the Talmud[5] regarding the “pond chicken” and as to whether it is kosher. The Talmud concludes that it is not Kosher and the Tosafus explains that although this chicken is born from the egg of a kosher chicken, it is not considered kosher being that it is missing the kashrus signs of a kosher chicken. The Tosafus explains that the rule that whatever comes out of a pure animal is pure only applies when the growth of the fetus was inside the womb of the kosher animal, however, by birds, since the eggs are laid on the sand and develop on their own, therefore they don’t carry the Kosher status of the kosher mother chicken. Now, if we hold like the former approach that the signs are not intrinsically required and simply come to reveal the kosher status, then seemingly this ruling of the Talmud does not make sense, and so long as one knows that the mother bird was kosher there is no longer a need for the kosher signs. However, according to the approach that the kosher signs are intrinsically required, it makes perfect sense to say that in this case the bird is not kosher.

Whatever the case, even according to the approach that the kosher signs are merely there for distinction purposes, since everything in the world is with divine providence and especially matters in Torah, therefore there must be some spiritual connection and advantage found within these two signs. We will now explore what the spiritual meaning of these two signs are.

5. Nonkosher foods create an evil nature in the person, kosher signs express a refined nature:

One of the reasons behind why G-d prohibited Jews to consume certain foods is because food naturally turns into one’s very flesh and blood.[6] Now, certain animals contain bad and unrefined natures, and hence in order to avoid these unrefined natures from permeating one’s own human soul and personality, G-d forbade their consumption. Based on this, we can deduce that the two signs of a kosher animal express the refined nature of the animal and hence reveal that the animal is valid to be eaten. Accordingly, it is also proper for each Jew to emulate these two signs which express a refined nature. We will now analyze what the two kosher signs correspond to in a man’s divine service.

6. Having split hooves represents the level of one’s involvement in worldly matters:

Not to involve one’s head in worldly matters but rather just the feet: Even animals, like humans, have a separation between their head and their feet, as while their feet walk on the ground their heads are higher up towards heaven. This represents that a person should not have his head drowned within worldly matters, and should only invest his external energies, represented in his feet, in these matters, such as his business and occupation. One must save his quality intellectual and emotional energies for matters of service of G-d and not waste them on materialistic things.

The meaning behind the animal hooves: Animals have hooves which separate between their feet and the earth. This represents that even one’s external actions and energies that he invests into the worldly matters need to have a separation from the world. Meaning, that he does not indulge himself in the unnecessary.

The meaning behind the split hooves: By a kosher animal the hooves are split. This split represents a shining of a ray of G-dliness. [Just like a split in an item allows items to pass through it, so too the split hooves are present that one should penetrate his worldly matters with G-dly intent and purpose. Meaning, that it does not suffice to simply avoid overexerting oneself in worldly matters, as even the worldly matters that one is required to do must be penetrated with holiness.]

Incorporating the right and left side:

Another aspect in service of G-d that can be learned from the split hooves is from the fact that the hooves are split one to the right and one to the left. This represents that a person must incorporate both the side of Chesed/kindness and the side of Gevura/severities. There are times that one must be liberal and express a kind and compromising attitude to another, and there are times that one must act conservatively, and bind oneself to various restraints. Likewise, a Jew must serve G-d both from the side of kindness by arousing love for G-d and also from the side of severity by arousing awe and fear for Him.[7]

A lesson in Shlichus and Kiruv:

For example, in the act of bringing a Jew closer to Judaism, a certain level of kindness and liberalism is required to look at him with a good eye and truly desire to help him. At the same time a certain measurement of severity and conservatism is also required, as one is not allowed to compromise in any Jewish law for the sake of kiruv and Shlichus even if he believes it can bring that Jew closer to Judaism.

8. Chewing the cud represents rethinking one’s decisions:

Often, we are faced with a decision regarding a matter which is under question as to whether it is Halachically correct, and as to whether it follows the will of G-d. One of the ways of verifying whether one is making the right decision is by thinking over the matter several times and analyzing its cons and effects and reasons of for and against. A G-d-fearing Jew needs to act similar to the Kosher animal in his decisions and chew over the decision similar to how a kosher animal chews over his food.


Lessons of the Sicha:

· Just as every law-abiding Jew checks the kosher certification of the food that they eat to make sure that it contains the kosher signs, so too every Jew should make sure that he himself emulates these kosher signs. Thus, one should not make quick decisions regarding matters that relate to one’s religious observance and service of G-d, and should rather chew over the matter well to make sure that he is making the right decision. Likewise, he needs to have split hooves which means that he tries to permeate a G-dly and religious purpose behind even his mundane actions, and does not indulge in them more than necessary.


[1] See Tzafnas Paneiach on Rambam Machalos Assuros

[2] Bechoros 5b

[3] See Yerushalmi Shabbos end of chapter 9

[4] Tehillim 104:26

[5] Nidda 50b

[6] See Ramban Vayikra 11:12

[7] See Likkutei Sichos 2 p.82

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