The Torah portion of Re’eh provides two signs whereby we know that an animal may be eaten: it chews its cud and has cloven hooves.1

When a person eats any type of food, be it animal, vegetable or mineral, the food becomes part of his flesh and blood. By eating it, a person fulfills the purpose of its creation: that it be incorporated within man.

There are certain aspects of man that are similar to the mineral, vegetable and animal states.2 Then there are those components that make man a totally disparate entity. It is these latter elements that make man a unique being — a thinking and speaking being, a medaber.

Just as the mineral, vegetable and animal parts of the world attain their maximum potential when they are incorporated into human beings, so too, within man as well: Those aspects that resemble the mineral, vegetable and animal are not man’s purpose; his purpose lies in his unique quality as a medaber. The proper destiny of his other facets is that they come to be encompassed within the attribute of medaber.

Thus physical man’s true purpose is to become, as it were, incorporated within Supernal Man.3 He accomplishes this by fulfilling the mission entrusted to him by Supernal Man. For when one acts as G‑d’s emissary and fulfills the mission with which He entrusted him, a person becomes, as it were, “similar to Him.”4

So too, the purpose of the mineral, vegetable and animal in man is that they be elevated and incorporated within Supernal Man. This is accomplished through man’s use of them for the purpose for which they were brought into existence.

Man’s challenge is thus to take his animalistic inclinations — which by nature draw a person away from spirituality — and incorporate them into holiness.

In order to know whether a person is serving G‑d properly and elevating the animal within him, or is being drawn down by it, the Torah gives us two signs.

Man’s natural tendency is to serve G‑d either with love and kindness, or with awe and severity. When man is able to serve with both attributes, it is an indication that he is serving Him not by force of habit but out of true devotion. Were he serving G‑d merely as a matter of routine, it would be impossible to display the same degree of vitality in both kinds of service.

This true service in elevating the animal within man is indicated by cloven hooves. The service is “kosher,” since both “sides,” the aspect of love and kindness on the one side, as well as the aspect of awe and severity on the other, are divided equally.

But since man is involved with the darkness of physical world, he can never be too sure that he is serving G‑d appropriately. Even when he observes that his “hooves are cloven” he cannot rely on a merely cursory examination.

It is therefore necessary that he behave like an animal “chewing its cud,” and review and inspect his spiritual service again and again, so as to be sure that he is indeed serving properly, and not favoring one form of service over the other.

In a more general sense, these signs teach us that before engaging in physical activities, we must be sure that we are not doing so simply for the sake of physical pleasure, but for a spiritual end. Moreover, we should check repeatedly to be sure that all our actions are truly performed for the sake of heaven.

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. II, pp. 375-378.