When Rabbi Tawil asked that I write an article about Parshat Re’eh, kosher animals immediately came to my mind. But as it was Chukat when he spoke to me, so I thought I would write about the chukim (statutes which seem to have no logical reason) and their connection to Kashrut.
Why does the Torah command us not to eat certain animals? There are those who explain that it is for our own good health-wise. Certainly many health practitioners advise against eating pork and shellfish. Even this most rationalist approach (Vol 3 Chapter 48 of Moreh Nevuchim of Maimonides) has an element of chok (unknowable). Can you show the same evidence for the hundreds of other non-kosher animals? Probably not. You take it on faith that just as pork is bad for your health so are the others.
Or possibly, as the Ramban [Nachmanides] says, you are what you eat. The negative character traits of non-kosher animals can ill-affect your own character. Note that not one predatory mammal is kosher. Apparently preying on others is not a trait valued by G-d. Seems to make sense, yet there are non-kosher animals that the Torah itself uses as metaphors for good qualities, for instance when the Torah refers to the tribe of Yissachar as a donkey bearing the yoke of Torah.
When Rashi explains what ‘chok’ means, he writes, “The nations and the Satan pester us, saying why don’t you wear shatnez (clothing with a linen-wool mix), why don’t you eat non-kosher etc?”
So why indeed kosher?
All the above is true. Keeping Torah really is beneficial for us in tangible and visible ways. It is healthy to live a Torah-bound lifestyle. “For it is your life and the length of your days” (Devarim 30, 20). Torah and its observance is most certainly spiritually uplifting as well, and we become morally improved people by striving to keep the mitzvoth and allowing ourselves to be changed by it.
But, most importantly, the Torah (in its entirety) is an unknowable chok because G-d is unknowable and the Torah is the wisdom of G-d. Hashem is not physical. He is also not spiritual. He is beyond all definition. He is infinite while we are finite, and even if we sat on a mountain top our entire life and meditated, we would still not be truly connected to Him. We connect to G-d through a mitzvah, through fulfilling what He instructed us to do. How we finite beings connect to the infinite G-d is truly a mystery.
It is wonderful to explore and attempt to at least have a glimpse of the beauty of Torah and its depth, but let us first and foremost commit ourselves whole heartedly to the Mitzvot whatever level we stand at and however deep our understanding reaches.
Eating kosher and eating it for the right reason(s) does not merely save us from negative animalistic traits but also internalizes in a very palpable way (and in a way that becomes one with us) the fact that we can, through mitzvoth, unite with the Holy One, blessed by He, who is unknowable and beyond anything we can ever possibly imagine.