Nachal novea; makor chochma -
A flowing river; the source of wisdom (Mish. 18:4)

Parshas Sh'mini 5756

(Leviticus 9:1-11:47)

"Everything among the animals that has a split hoof, which is completely separated into double hooves, and that brings up its cud - it [that animal] you may eat." (Leviticus 11:3)

Man is part physical and part material - comprised of both body and soul. Many of the Torah's 613 commandments apply only to the soul, whereas others apply to both body and soul. One of the major themes of this weeks parasha, the laws of kashrut (kosher laws), the Jewish dietary regulations, applies to both. The parasha concludes by explaining why Hashem restricted His chosen people from what others would term, "the pleasures of life", "You [the Jews] are to sanctify yourselves and you shall become holy, for I [Hashem (G-d)] am holy [therefore Hashem wants His people to emulate His holiness, connecting them to eternity, earning them a clearer perception of Him. However, this lofty level can be achieved only by being obstinate (which itself pollutes the mind and soul). (Sforno)]" (Lev. 1:44)

Many secular and estranged Jews feel resentful that the Torah restricts their lives and limits their involvement in the activities of this world. They feel that if Hashem is as merciful as He claims to be, why does He seem to ruin all of life's pleasures by issuing so many restrictions, especially limiting what one can eat. What purpose is there in suffering? Life is hard enough, why add to it by restricting pleasure. "Live and let live," "you only go around once in life", "grab all the gusto you can," as the verse says, "Let us eat and drink [and pursue pleasure]; for tomorrow we must die." (Isaiah 22:13) How many Jews say to themselves or others, "I love Hashem in my heart, that should be sufficient for Him." The Torah actually acknowledges these viewpoints, recognizing that it is natural for a person to feel resentful when limits are imposed upon him. Yet Hashem created this world with a goal and a higher purpose than just merely surviving. No one lives forever, as the verse says, "Man [his life] is compared to a breath, his days are as a shadow that passes [quickly]." (Psalms 144:4) If the restrictions would last forever, the above mentioned complaints might have some validity. However, the restrictions last only a brief moment in comparison to the eternal hereafter. Because of the natural resentment people feel towards being restricted, in the Torah, Hashem lovingly and compassionately explains why He restricts us, as a caring father would explain to his small child why he cannot eat poison. Hashem explains that these restrictions are not meant to hurt, or be malicious or sadistic, as the verse says, "For I am Hashem Who elevates you [the Jews, through the kosher laws (Rashi)] from the land of Egypt to be a G-d to you; you shall be holy, for I am holy." (Lev. 11:45) Hashem liberated you from Egypt [which also refers to enslavement to excessive materialism and the troubles one encounters in life] so that you would keep His laws. Therefore it is proper that you show your gratitude by trying to live up to His goals and aspirations for you, namely by becoming holy, and therefore, eternally one with Hashem, Who has the ability to give you unlimited joy in the hereafter, after you have earned this privilege through hard work in this world]. (Sforno)


The Baal Shem Tov taught that Hashem derives very great pleasure and delight (so to speak) from the paradoxical connection of the lofty soul with a lowly physical body. Spiritually, the body is a very filthy vessel, since [man was created out of the "dust of the earth" (Genesis 2:7) and] there is nothing lower nor less spiritual than dust. Still, [the lowly physical body] constantly gives praise and thanks to its Creator. This is very remarkable. Hashem has more delight from this praise than from all the worship and songs of the angels. The angels do not have gross bodies, and for them [such worship] is not at all remarkable. (Lekutim YeKarim 14c) The words of the holy Baal Shem imply that the restrictions placed on the Jews actually are meant to safeguard the body and thus, the precious soul, from absorbing the spiritual filth and contamination of this highly spiritually polluting world.

One might wonder why the Torah chose to permit for consumption, only those animals that have split hooves and chew their cud. Rabbi Nachman taught, "Everything that transpires in this world, even among the Gentiles, down to the last details of the way they walk, the clothing they wear and so on - everything has some purpose, nothing is meaningless [all material things and actions are connected to some spiritual root and energy]." A person might not understand why things are as they are in this world, but if he succeeds in doing Hashem's will, it is a very good thing and very fortunate is he, indeed. (Chayay MoHaran 195) In the following paragraphs we will explore some of the reasons why the Torah permits only those animals that have split hooves and chew their cud, based on the holy wisdom of Rabbi Nachman and his disciple Rav Noson.


Rav Noson says that all the kosher animals possess the same spiritual energies found in the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden. This energy is known as kelipas noga, and consists of intermingled pure and impure spiritual energies. The spiritual essence of non-kosher animals is totally from the side of impurity. The holy Ari explains that animals, plants, and inanimate objects are reincarnations of aspects of the souls of people which fell into the lower realms due to the gravity of their sins. They suffer greatly because the privilege of the faculty of speech has been taken away from them. Although these unfortunate souls have fallen into the realm of the lower life-forms, because of the holy nature of the soul, they always yearn and strive to elevate themselves so they can return to their source. The physical manifestation, of the spiritual essences of both good and evil contained in the kosher animal, is split hooves and the chewing of its cud. The main faculty that distinguishes man from animal is the power of the mouth, speech. Chewing its cud is the most civilized and mannerly behavior displayed by an animal. Ravenously gulping down huge chunks of food is the epitome of animal behavior, whereas slow chewing of cud is a higher form of the use of the mouth, more closely identified with human behavior such as mannerly eating and speaking. Therefore, a fallen soul contained in a kosher animal has reached the highest level of spiritual development below that of a human being, for it has reached the level just below the mouth. The animal regurgitates its food in order to swallow it a second time. This is a physical manifestation of the fragmented soul's desire to ascend to the next level, that of the mouth, the human being.

All food contains holy sparks (units of Hashem's light that provide life and power to those who possess them) which are from the fragmented and fallen souls of people who have not fulfilled Hashem's will. Speech is dependent on the soul. When a person speaks, fragments from the soul transmit the spoken words through the air, as the verse says, "My soul departed through His speaking." (Song of Songs 5:6) As discussed last week, the blood is the physical material that most concentratedly contains spiritual energies, giving life and sustenance to the body, as the verse says, " The soul of all flesh is in its blood." (Lev. 17:14) These verses inform us that the blood affects the power of speech and that both speech and the blood are dependent on the soul. One would not be able to talk if he did not possess a human soul. When a person consumes food, he ingests the holy sparks contained in the food he has eaten. These holy sparks are absorbed by the blood, along with the physical nutrients and nourish both the body and the soul. When the sparks nourish the soul in this manner, it empowers one's ability to talk. Therefore, the blood has a significant impact on the power of speech. Through this process, holy sparks are raised from the lower levels of residing in the food to the higher level of being attached to speech. That the kosher animal does not easily digest its food, but must swallow it twice is because of the inherent difficulty in raising something from one level of holiness to a higher level. This is why the expression for chewing the cud in Hebrew is ma'ah'leh gay'raw - literally elevating the cud, i.e. elevating the holy sparks in the cud to the next spiritual level.

The ability to chew the cud is therefore only found amongst kosher animals. As we mentioned above, kosher animals possess both pure and impure spiritual energies. The evil energies found in the kosher animal are destroyed when the animal is ritually slaughtered, specifically by the spiritual essence of the slaughtering knife. After the evil energies are destroyed, the remaining holy sparks can be raised to the higher spiritual level, that of man. For these soul fragments are no longer strongly embedded in the animal realm and can ascend when eaten by a Jew.


Rabbi Nachman taught that Hebrew is called lashon ha'kodesh - the holy tongue - and its energies are totally good, for Hebrew is a language intended only for holiness of expression. At its root, by definition Hebrew does not contain even one word of profanity. The spiritual energies of the Hebrew language connect one to the highest of spiritual realms and to Hashem. Conversely, the other languages of the world are focused on and oriented towards expressing themes that apply to this world, and therefore have a strong attachment to physicality. Because of this association with physicality, the languages of the nations are considered totally impure. Non-kosher animals are relegated for consumption to the nations of the world. As we mentioned above, the spiritual energies found in food nourish the blood and enable a person to speak. The languages that attach one to physicality are not defined as true speech. True speech is only that which links one to Hashem. Therefore, non-kosher animals do not chew their cud. For chewing the cud indicates that the soul fragments are capable of ascending to the level of speech, as described above. The sparks attached to non-kosher animals are unable to ascend to the level of true speech because the spiritual energies they contain are totally evil, spiritually strengthening attachment to the material world. Therefore, the Jews who are created to be spiritually connected to the upper worlds and to true speech are prohibited from eating non-kosher food, lest they be pulled into the realms of impurity, whereas Gentiles, who have an entirely different role spiritually, are not connected to "true speech" and are permitted to eat non-kosher food. As we mentioned above, speech is an extension of the soul. When a Gentile eats food, the soul fragments contained in the food are transferred to the level of materialistic speech, which is not really a spiritual ascent and thus does not satisfy the aspirations of the trapped souls to ascend. This unfulfilled desire is manifested in the non-kosher animal by the animal's lack of the need to chew its cud.

Man does not chew cud because the souls contained in the food he consumes want to be absorbed into his body. This is their goal for it is a spiritual ascent for them. Therefore, man digests his food more easily, without the need to chew cud. Again, kosher animals chew their cud, for the souls contained in their food do not want to remain there, but want to ascend even higher. This concept also explains why someone who is intoxicated with alcohol or wine usually vomits out his food. The intoxicated state causes a loss of intelligence and slurred speech, which is animal-like. The souls that were ingested with the food do not want to stay in the body of such a man who intentionally impairs his intelligence and descends to the realm of the animal. Therefore, a drunk vomits his food.


The feet support and transport the body where it needs to go, which is most essential for the body's survival. A person's intelligence directs his feet. Therefore, the mind is essential for the body's survival. When the mind is impaired, such as in an intoxicated state, a person cannot stand on his feet. Rabbi Nachman taught that the power of the mind is expressed through the feet, since the feet follow the directions of the mind. This is why the Kabbalists refer to the spiritual power of speech as rag'lin - feet. (2 Lekutai MoHaran 81) Since the ability of the feet to support the body is dependent on the mind, animals, having weak minds, need four feet to support their bodies. In addition, men walk erect whereas animals do not. The comparative anatomy and skeletal structure indicate that the spiritual energies of animals' minds are very weak, and that of humans is far stronger. As we mentioned above, the mind is connected to the soul and, since the mind controls the feet, the soul is also connected to the feet. The split hooves of the kosher animal indicate that there is an opening for the trapped souls to ascend, because the kosher animal contains good and bad spiritual energies. The pure energies bridge the trapped souls to the next spiritual level, enabling them to escape when the kosher meat to which they are attached is eaten by a Jew. However, non-kosher animals do not have split hooves, indicating that the souls entrapped there are sealed, unable to escape or be elevated, because of the totally evil spiritual energies found there. (Lekutai Halachoth: Yoreh Dayah: Hilchoth Bi'hay'maw V'Chai'ya Te'ho'raw 1:1-3)


On the allegorical level, people who are very far from and unable to perceive Hashem can be compared to those souls that have fallen into the realm of the animal. There are those who have fallen only to the throat of a kosher animal and those who have fallen to the depths of the animal realm, to the feet of a kosher animal. Since they possess a Jewish soul, they are still connected to Hashem, just as the kosher animal possesses good spiritual energies intermingled with bad. As we mentioned above, the mouth of the kosher animal is where it chews its cud, indicating that it is just outside the realm of holiness, just beneath the level of true speech and will readily be elevated to realm of speech and holiness. The person whose soul has fallen only to the throat level is still connected to the light of Hashem through the intervention of a Tzaddik (saint). A person who has fallen to this level needs to be aware that he may attach himself to sages and Tzaddikim (saints) in order to extricate himself from the animal realm and return to Hashem. If a person has fallen to depths of impurity, to the feet of the kosher animal, Rabbi Nachman assured that even there, there is no despair. The split hooves of the kosher animal indicate that the Tzaddikim have the power to shine Hashem's light even into the depths of spiritual defilement enabling those who have fallen so far to yet return to Hashem. Thus Rabbi Nachman always stressed that Hashem loves His people so much that He provided them with so very many ways to escape from evil so that they can come close to Him. Amen! (Lekutai Halachoth: Yoreh Dayah: Hilchoth Bi'hay'maw V'Chai'ya Te'ho'raw 2:2)


We mentioned above that the hooves of a kosher animal represent that even if a person has fallen to depths of impurity, he should not despair, for there is always a way to escape.  As the following story demonstrates, through the light of the Tzaddik, the sinner can be brought back to Hashem:

Immediately, upon the conclusion of Shabbos (the Sabbath) the Baal Shem Tov took several of his students on a long journey, an all night trip. He instructed the driver of tile wagon and his students not to look at or pay any attention to the road, for the horses knew where to go. In the morning they reached a large city, and they stopped in tile courtyard of one of the houses. The owner invited them into the house. In the kitchen, they found a woman and greeted her. The Baal Shem addressed her, "I am your uncle, don't you recognize me? What are you doing here!?" She replied politely to the man whom she had never seen before, "I live here and was married to the owner's son who passed away. 1 am waiting for his Younger son to mature [he was born after the death of his older brother] so I call marry him. I am very much opposed to the whole idea, I wish I could escape." The Baal Shem instructed her to pack her things and that he would take her away from this place. When the master of the house saw that she was preparing to leave, he demanded an explanation from the Baal Shem. The Baal Shem took him aside and explained, "I am the Baal Shem Tov. I left the city of Meciziboz last night, which is hundreds of miles away, and I arrived here this morning with heavenly intervention in order to save your daughter-in-law. Since her husband died, she has sinned. She has been in the company of Gentile nobles and just recently promised one of them that she would convert and marry him. Yesterday, her departed grandfather, who was a great Tzaddik in his generation, appeared to me in a vision and begged me to save her for she possessed a worthy and lofty soul. In two hours the noblemen will come to fetch her with an armed troop. I beseech you to let her go with me!?" The father-in-law finally agreed to let her go.

All during the return trip, the Baal Shem gave the woman encouragement and, when they arrived in Medziboz, he arranged a match for her with an important and honored person of the community. On the day of the wedding, the bride came to the Baal Shem's chamber to confess all of her sins in order that he would help her to rectify them. He informed her that he was not really her uncle, but had come to save her only at her grandfatlier's behest. He directed her how to repent and arranged for to marry a different man, a baker, for the important man she had been about to marry was too far above her level. The woman followed all of the Baal Shem's instructions and became a thoroughly righteous woman. Some time later, the woman's grandfather again appeared to the Baal Shem in a dream and thanked him for a job well done. (Se'pu'ray Chassidim)

HITHBODEDUTH (secluding oneself)

Rabbi Nachman strongly urged his followers to talk daily to Hashem in the manner that one would confide in his best friend, in seclusion, in a language and style with which we feel most comfortable.  In these sessions, one can openly discuss anything and everything with Hashem. One can praise Him, unload and unburden his feelings, aspirations, problems and wants on Hashem Who has unlimited patience to listen and Who actually craves these encounters, as mentioned y Rashi in the book of Genesis.  These encounters not only strengthen one's faith in Hashem, relieve stress and worry, help to accomplish goals, sharpen the mind and build an intimate and personal relationship with Hashem, but they cultivate the notion that Hashem really exists and can be counted on for all one's needs. The following is an example of a Hithbodeduth session:

In Your great mercy, let us be worthy to fulfill all the commandments that pertain to Passover with great joy.  Help, save, and protect us from finding even the slightest amount of leaven in our possession throughout all the days of Passover.  For it is revealed and nown to You, Master of the entire world, that it is impossible for a flesh and blood mortal on his own to avoid coming into the possession of a crumb of leaven, without Your merciful salvation.  Save us from coming into the possession of even the slightest amount of leaven all the days of the holy Passover and help us that we may be worthy to go from servitude to freedom, from sorrow to happiness, from mourning to celebration, and from darkness to great light. (2 Lekutai Tefelos 37)


Rabbi Nachman stressed that everyone must study at least one law from the Codes, the 'Shulchan Aruch', daily, without fail. This study is a great spiritual remedy.  A legal conclusion determines what is permitted or forbidden after sifting through the various opinions. Study of the codes helps separate and rectify the evil of one's sins. (Sichos HaRan 29):

Shmurah (guarded) Matzah is made from wheat which is guarded from moisture [if moisture comes in contact with the grain or flour before it is baked, it renders it leaven and thus forbidden to be in one's possession for Passover] for the sake of fulfilling the Biblical commandment to eat matzah on the first night of Passover. Some say that this guarding should begin from the time of the harvest. Others say that the guarding may commence with the grinding of the wheat. [Due to the Biblical requirement to eat Matzah on the first night of Passover] it is preferred that matzah guarded from the time of the harvest.. Guarding the matzah from the time of grinding is mandatory [as the verse says, "You shall guard the matzaos." (Exodus 12:17)]. (Mishna Berurah 453:21, 22, 23)

Volume 3, Issue 25

Portions Copyright © 1997, Benyamin Pilant,