Judy was expecting her first child, and was doing everything she could to guarantee healthy growth.

She prepared her meals carefully to ensure a sufficient supply of essential nutrients. She swallowed her daily prenatal vitamins and exercised regularly as per her doctor’s recommendations. Naturally, Judy never smoked.

When Judy read about the benefits of exposing her unborn baby to music, she began playing evocative, beautiful melodies. She also became aware of the benefits of reading stories to babies in utero, so she dutifully read nightly.

Judy never regarded her behavior as extreme or fanatical. In fact, she is constantly seeking more ways to nurture the physical, emotional or spiritual development of her child.

In the Torah reading, Shemini (Leviticus 9–11), G‑d commands the kosher laws, identifying the animal species permissible and forbidden for consumption. Land animals may be eaten only if they have split hooves and chew their cud, while fish must have fins and scales. There are no signs for kosher fowl, but rather a tradition affirming which species are not kosher.

“You are what you eat” is a popular adage. Our physical food is transformed into blood and flesh, becoming an integral part of our being. Spiritually, too, the intrinsic qualities within our food help mold our spiritual persona.

The Torah prohibits non-kosher foods to prevent us from assimilating their negative characteristics. What are the traits of kosher animals, embodied by their signs of kashrut? And, what do these signs indicate about which positive qualities to cultivate within ourselves?

1) Kosher land animals have split hooves and chew their cud.

A closed, unsplit hoof represents rigidity, being closed off and untouched by the plight of others. The split hoof, on the other hand, symbolizes approachability and sensitivity to others’ suffering and needs. It also epitomizes receptiveness to further growth.

Foster an openness and awareness of others. Sustain an interest in continual learning and growing.

The kosher animal that chews its cud symbolizes a thoughtfulness and “chewing over” of teachings and circumstances.

Think over a situation before reacting in the heat of anger, recklessness, or impatience. Take a step back and consider a proper response or course of action. Shape yourself into a more insightful individual by analyzing, studying, and internalizing knowledge.

2) Kosher fish have fins and scales.

Scales, which cover the fish like a protective armor, signify the quality of integrity and morality.

Develop the ability to stay true to your inner self. Protect yourself from outside temptations and stay true to your morals.

Fins, propelling the fish forward, represent ambition.

Maximize your talents and capabilities by feeding your ambition to advance and improve yourself.

The Talmud teaches that all fish that have scales also have fins, but some fish with fins do not have scales and are not kosher. Having fins (ambition) without scales (morality) can lead to less-than-kosher behavior. Too many people, in their climb to success, abandon their values along the way.

Encourage yourself to use your drive—but charted by a moral guide.

3) Kosher fowl do not have specific signs, but are determined by our tradition, which affirms which species are kosher.

The fowl reminds us of the need for tradition and a higher guidance. There are times when every individual, no matter how intelligent or talented, will gain from seeking the guidance of those wiser or more experienced.

Consult a mentor and value his or her wisdom, and you will bypass many faulty courses in life.

What emotional or spiritual profile would you like to build in yourself?

Sensitivity, thoughtfulness, and consideration are indispensable qualities. A drive to accomplish tempered by moral integrity is also an essential life skill. Add the ability to know when to seek guidance, and you have a winning combination.

The food we consume has a profound effect on our wellbeing. In our efforts to nourish ourselves, let’s acknowledge the profound spiritual effect of food on our ever-developing psyche.