In parshat Shemini, it speaks of the laws of kosher animals. We read that there are two signs that tell us that land animals are kosher: cloven hooves (or in the common vernacular, split hooves) and that it is a ruminant (an animal that chews its cud).

The common domesticated animals that we eat are cattle, sheep and goats. However, unbeknownst to many is that many animals in the wild are kosher, including all kinds of deer, antelope, moose, buffalo, bison, wildebeest, giraffe, and more.1 All of them are herbivores—none of them are animals of prey. These animals don't have upper teeth and chew their food in a side-to-side motion.

Why did G‑d forbid other animals? One explanation, given by the Ramban,2 is that what one eats becomes part and partial with their entire being, affecting not only their flesh and blood but even their personality. Since these animals have negative traits, G‑d did not want us to eat them, lest we take on those negative traits. From this is understood that good traits are somehow connected to split hooves and chewing the cud. G‑d wants us to have these good traits, which means that in some way, we should also have “split hooves and chew our cud.”

There is a discussion3 regarding kosher animals: Are these animals intrinsically kosher and the kosher signs just help us identify them, or are they only kosher because of the qualities they possess? It seems from the verse, "because it chews its cud,"4 that the kosher sign is what causes the animal to be kosher.

Are You a Kosher Animal?

But even if this were not the case, the fact that G‑d gave us these signs to differentiate between kosher and non-kosher animals means that we can learn from them whether our internal animal5 is acting in a kosher manner or not.

The animal part of us could possibly be acting in a non-kosher way. Even if we go through the motions of keeping the Torah, we could still be acting in a non-kosher way. A person can damage others and make their lives miserable, while still technically abiding by the law. The same applies to Torah. One can follow the letter of the law and at the same time not be a good person. That is not kosher.

Let us see what we can learn from the kosher signs, which will act as a litmus test to demonstrate whether the animal part of us is kosher or not.

The Hooves

Animals, like humans, have their heads and hearts separated from the ground. It is only their legs that touch the ground—and even they are separated from the ground by hooves. This means that we should not have our higher faculties, namely our heads and hearts (our thoughts and emotions) invested in earthly pursuits. We should use only our lower faculties of action (our arms and legs) to serve us in our earthly pursuits. Even they should have a separation (a hoof), meaning, only as much as necessary.

The hooves must be split, meaning that even in our earthly pursuits, G‑d should be able to come through and permeate them, making the physical G‑dly.6

The law is that the hooves have to be split through and through.7 When a kosher animal walks, each step connects to the ground with both a right and left side of the hoof. When we deal with earthly matters, we should always have the balance of drawing good closer with the right, and pushing bad away with the left.8 There has to be a constant effort to keep on the straight path, not to veer to the right or the left.

Balance

This is especially important when making an effort to bring someone closer to G‑d. Some, with their kind hearts, make the mistake of watering down Judaism in the hope that this will get people involved. This is wrong, because it is a slippery slope, and eventually what is being peddled is not Judaism anymore. The right way is to keep Torah authentic and bring the people closer to it,9 not changing the Torah to fit another's lifestyle.

Others, in their zealousness, make the mistake of being unnecessarily strict and pushing people away from Judaism.10

The same is true for every one of us. There is a fine line that has to be held. When we veer left or right, ever so slightly, it can get us totally lost.

Chew It Over

There is one more thing to do to keep the animal inside us kosher: chewing the cud. After the animal swallows its food, it regurgitates it and chews on it again. Even with all the abovementioned strategies in place, when it comes to earthly pursuits, we have to constantly reevaluate our situation and make certain that we are on the right path.

On a Higher Level

There is also a lesson for our service of G‑d:

Love and fear are generally perceived as opposites. But when it comes to serving G‑d, both work in tandem.11 It is a split hoof, love on the right and fear on the left. And with each step, they go together.

Most of us, by nature, serve G‑d in one of these two ways. Some of us serve through love, and others serve through fear. For example, some of us might love to do acts of kindness, but when it comes to things that take discipline, we are not so involved. Others love following rituals but are not so involved in doing acts of kindness. But if we only do what comes naturally to us, how do we know that it is truly for G‑d? Maybe we are doing it because it is our nature? When we serve G‑d through only one of these two ways, it is like one solid hoof. It is not kosher. When we go against our nature and serve with both love and fear, like a split hoof, we know that it is kosher.

The hoof has to be split entirely. Meaning, you shouldn't just be going through the motions of love and fear superficially, but it should truly affect you to the core. You must be authentic and genuine.

And again, one must “chew his cud,” constantly reevaluating to see if he is on the right path.12

May we learn to be true to the core, serving G‑d with both love and fear. This will surely keep us on the right path, the one that leads us to the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon.