R. Yisrael Meir, the founder of the chassidic dynasty of Ger, was wont to forgo any food concerning which there was the slightest question whether it was kosher or not. Even if a Rabbi would rule that it was acceptable, he would refrain from eating it.

Once a new maid began working in R. Yisrael Meir’s kitchen. She was unaware of this practice and so when a question arose as to whether a chicken was kosher or not, she brought it to the local Rabbi. When he ruled that it was acceptable, she served it to R. Yisrael Meir.

Unaware of what the maid had done, he nevertheless politely put the chicken on the side, saying he had no appetite for it. Later the chassidim investigated and discovered what had happened.

Ruach HaKodesh, prophetic inspiration,” they claimed.

“No,” answered R. Yisrael Meir. “This is something anyone can do. When a person makes a firm resolve that he will not eat anything that is not kosher, G‑d puts him in touch with his feelings and enables him to see to it that the desire will be fulfilled.”

Parshas Shemini

The conclusion of this week’s Torah reading speaks about the laws of kashrus: which animals may be eaten and which may not. These laws are placed in the category of chukim, laws that do not have an explanation within the realm of mortal wisdom. Simply put, there is no logical reason why we may eat beef and not pork. It has nothing to do with health factors, preventing trichinosis, or other apologetic explanation. We eat certain meats because G‑d said we could, and we don’t eat others because He commanded us not to.

That said, there is still a difference of opinion among our Rabbis: Did G‑d have a reason for what He commanded? In other words, is there a spiritual reason not to partake of these species? Some Rabbis maintain there is. They explain that we as material beings cannot perceive spiritual truths and hence do not understand why one species is permitted and one is not. But since G‑d created the world and everything within it, He knows the particular spiritual qualities associated with every created being. He knows that certain species have undesirable qualities and if we partake of them, those undesirable qualities will be assimilated into our bodies and into our characters. As a favor to us, He told us which foods to eat and which not to eat.

Other Rabbis differ. They explain that we should fulfill G‑d’s will because it is His will. We don’t need a reason to do what He wants. We should do what He wants because He wants it and should feel happy that He has given us the opportunity to connect to Him by fulfilling His will.

Chassidus explains that there is validity to both approaches. All of the mitzvos should be fulfilled because that is what G‑d wants. If He commanded us to chop firewood or draw water, we should do so gladly. For the very fact that we are fulfilling His command establishes a bond between us and Him; there is nothing greater than that.

On the other hand, G‑d is not a creature of whim. He, His will, and His wisdom are one. And thus everything that He wants also has a reason.

Nevertheless, there is a difference between man’s desires and G‑d’s. When it comes to human beings, we have desires and we have reasons for them. For the things we want and the reasons we want them existed before we did. Their existence motivates our desire.

This isn’t true when speaking about G‑d. On the contrary, it is His desire that brings about their existence. There was no world before He created it, and when He created it, it came into being as He desired, according to the dictates of His will and reason. Kosher food came into being because He wants man to partake of it.

G‑d is the ultimate good, and as such, He wants to grant us consummate good. For this reason, He made known His will by giving us the Torah and its mitzvos. He does not compel us to fulfill these mitzvos. On the contrary, He gives us free choice, and we can do whatever we please. Nevertheless, in His kindness, He has shown us a path that conforms with His will and His wisdom that, should we choose to embark on it,will bring us absolute good in both the spiritual and the material spheres.

Looking to the Horizon

The observance of mitzvos will continue in the era of the Redemption. It is not that the present era is one of trial and once we have proven ourselves and our commitment to G‑d, He will relax His restraints and allow us to do whatever we want. Instead, the mitzvos are Divine channels for good and well-being. At the present age, this is not always evident and it might appear at times that greater satisfaction can be attained through other means. Therefore, keeping His commandments may appear to be quite a challenge.

In the era of the Redemption, this lack of perception will disappear. We will appreciate what the mitzvos are, the benefits they bring us, and the connection to G‑d established through them. Needless to say, when that will be apparent, we will fulfill the mitzvos eagerly.

We don’t have to wait for Mashiach to begin observing the mitzvos in this manner. It’s true, these concepts are not plainly evident for us. But our lack of perception does not change the reality. By understanding and internalizing what the mitzvos are, we can change our outlook and inspire our observance with a foretaste of the warmth and energy it will possess during the era of the Redemption.