The month of Nissan has many special qualities, including the Passover redemption and the birth of the Jewish nation. This is true of even the last few days of Nissan, and perhaps even more so. Since the holiness grows from day to day, there is an opportunity for personal transformation, to attain a higher and more perfect spiritual level from where we were previously. This is hinted at by the verse about Nissan: "This month is for you, head [in Hebrew, 'rosh'] of the months ['chodeshim']" (Ex. 12:2), meaning that Nissan is the first month of the annual twelve month cycle. The Shelah teaches that the words can be translated as, "This month is for you a new [in Hebrew, 'chadash'] head ['rosh']" - meaning a new perspective on life. Also, "This is a month of "rosh chodesh's" - where each individual day is like the first day of a new month, full of new potential. What makes this animal aspect kosher or not?

We see this concept in the name of this week's Torah portion, Shemini, which literally translates as "eighth". While ostensibly speaking about the eighth day of the inauguration of the Sanctuary, when for the first time the Divine Presence was revealed there, the number eight signifies going beyond the normal, to a new higher level (as opposed to the number seven, which represents the natural, such as the weekly cycle of seven days). For example, eight are the days of Chanukah, whose miracles were supra-natural; ritual circumcision is on the eighth day of a child's life and serves as a covenant binding a Jew to G‑d. Because of this phenomenon, our ability to go beyond our assumed limitations is enhanced at this present time.

With so much positive spiritual momentum behind us, Shemini might seem to lack in inspiration, dealing mostly with details of offerings. Yet the end of the portion speaks about the two signs that identify which animals are kosher, namely split hooves and chewing of its cud (Lev. 11:3). What do we learn from these signs?

On an abstract level each of us has an "animal" aspect within us that wants to take part in the physical world. What makes this animal aspect kosher or not? If the intention of our actions is for G‑d's sake, to help others, to grow spiritually and reveal the spirituality in the world, then it is "kosher". When our actions are not for a higher purpose, and, in fact, interfere with the above goals, it is "not kosher".

It is incumbent upon us to use and elevate the physical world for spiritual purposes….

What do these two signs represent? Just as it is important to perceive ourselves as separate from the world, with unique spiritual strengths that elevate us, so a hoof separates the animal from the earth. Nevertheless, the goal is not to just separate ourselves. We eat to give us strength to serve G‑d; our work lives are to gather resources to lead Jewish lives; even sleep is to refresh ourselves to begin our service with new vigor. It is incumbent upon us to use and elevate the physical world for spiritual purposes. This is the concept behind a split hoof. Yes, there must be a separation - I have to keep myself aloof from the physical; but there also has to be an infusion of spiritual strength into the physical, in a sense through the split in the hoof, allowing us to elevate it and make it a vehicle for spiritual good. The split hoof teaches that we should infuse the physical with spiritual energy. If an action does not accomplish this, it is, in this sense, "not kosher".

The second sign is chewing of the cud. In daily life, it is imperative to think twice, check and double check, if what we are about to do is correct or not. No one would ever consider giving his hard earned money to a stranger, no matter how lucrative a deal is offered, without doing extensive investigation. How much more so with the spiritual relationship to the physical! It is imperative that we act cautiously guarding ourselves and our families from inappropriate actions.

There is a third rule, about birds. In their case, we cannot rely only on physical indications. The Torah specifies only which birds are not kosher. We know which ones are permitted to eat only through rabbinical tradition. This teaches us a basic premise in Jewish life: we are forbidden to rely on our intellect alone because it can easily mislead us. Even the most learned individual has to sometimes ask an opinion.

If we follow these signs, working to properly evaluate our motives and actions, and turn to the Torah's guidance, then we are guaranteed that our actions will always be kosher.

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

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