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Kosher Inside and Out

Kosher wine from Ukrainian store

“Every animal that does not have a divided hoof or that does not chew the cud is unclean for you; whoever touches the carcass of any of them will be unclean.” — Leviticus 11:26

The Torah portion for this week, Shemini, is from Leviticus 9:1–11:47 and the Haftorah from 2 Samuel 6:1–19.

I once saw a cartoon that showed a pig with the following thought bubble: “I wish everyone was Jewish!” Of all the non-kosher animals in the world, the pig is the most notorious. Even Jews who barely keep the laws of the Torah will stay away from eating pigs. Somehow, this animal became different from all other non-kosher animals.

The Jewish sages explain that there is something unique about pigs. There are two signs that determine whether an animal is kosher or not. Animals considered kosher first have split hooves. Secondly, kosher animals must chew their cud. One sign is discernible from the outside; the other is only apparent on the inside. For an animal to be kosher, it must exhibit both signs. If one sign is missing, the whole animal is prohibited.

Most animals either have both or none at all. But when it comes to the pig, it does have split hooves, but it does not chew its cud. On the outside the pig looks kosher, but on the inside it certainly is not.

The sages explain that these characteristics of the pig are symbolic and teach us a lesson. Some people in life look good on the outside, but on the inside, they aren’t the same. We would call these types of people hypocrites. They show one face to the outside world, but lead a totally different private life. This kind of behavior, symbolized by the pig, is not kosher! It goes against God’s will and doesn’t fool God who sees to the heart of a person: “People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

As we read this Torah portion, it’s a good time to reflect upon our own character. In what areas of life are we hypocritical? How can we become more sincere?

Consider this exercise: Pick a day to live as though everything that we do – both publicly and privately – is being broadcast live on a huge screen in Times Square. Would we do anything differently? As we begin to make any necessary changes to our behavior, and what is inside us truly matches our outward appearance and actions, we will be rewarded with inner peace, positive self-esteem, and contentment.

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