I frequently serve as a mashgiach (kosher supervisor) on behalf of a well-known kosher certification agency to ensure that the products of several plants in town meet the kosher standards. On a recent inspection, the company representative escorted me into a room used to produce a food that is a strong allergen. Due to the high risk of cross contamination, it is necessary to change smocks, thoroughly wash your hands and sanitize your shoes before entering the room.

As it turned out, during my inspection this production line was not in operation, and the entire apparatus had been disassembled to be cleaned and sanitized. After spending a few minutes there, we returned to the main production floor—but not before sanitizing our shoes, washing our hands and changing smocks. Chuckling, I commented to my escort, “Mike, I wonder why we need to go through this process. The room was empty!” He smiled wryly and replied, “That’s the rule, rabbi.”

A good answer, and an attitude that put me at ease.

Upon receiving the Torah, the Jewish nation was charged with the task of preserving this precious heritage for eternity. To do so, the Torah obligated the sages in each generation to introduce precautionary measures to ensure the integrity of mitzvah observance for generations. “You must safeguard My charge”1 is the directive for the sages, as the successors of Moses and his Sanhedrin, to legislate precautionary measures to protect the people from transgressing any of the Torah’s explicit prohibitions.

The kosher diet is rich with such safety nets. For example, to prevent the strong possibility of rationalizing the mixing of beef with dairy, the sages prohibited the mixture of poultry and dairy. These rabbinic measures are as timeless as the Torah itself.

This is a clear indication that the intended recipients of the Torah are human beings. Since we are prone to overconfidence, laziness and forgetfulness, it is necessary for us to be aware of our natural weaknesses and to set up buffer zones to protect us from transgression.

Angels would have no need for these protective measures. In fact, before Matan Torah (the Revelation at Sinai), they challenged the prudence of entrusting the Torah to Israel. “What is man that you should remember him?”2 they argued. Humans err all the time and should not be trusted with the precious Torah.

They were wrong. There is no greater pleasure to G‑d than us humans overcoming the challenges of life to remain steadfast to the principles of Torah. We can successfully do so only with strict adherence to the rules, even when they may seem superfluous and not directly connected to what we perceive as the original biblical ordinance. In fact, careful adherence to these laws serves to elevate the same human deficiencies that necessitated their formulation.

As I observed the responsible micro-lab coordinator at the plant thoroughly clean his hands before re-entering the main production room, even though there was no need for it, my confidence in the food industry was strengthened.

Now, the analogy only goes so far. While the rules in the plant are man-made (and probably redundant at times), the rabbinic safeguards are divinely inspired and as important as the Torah laws themselves. They’re 100% valid even when we don’t understand how they help us in our Torah observance or in our lives.

Let’s embrace how Torah elevates our humanity and appreciate the crucial role each iota of Jewish law plays in preserving the Torah for eternity—whether we understand it or not.

See also:

How Can the Rabbis Add to the Torah?

Why All the Rabbinic Safeguards?

Can We Add to the Torah?