We all know that eating isn’t just a matter of survival. Sitting down to a delicious meal in the company of family or friends is a fundamental social act. It helps create community. It advances our sense of well-being. It’s a tangible act of hospitality. If you’re the one who’s prepared the meal, you know that watching your company enjoy eating the food that you’ve made gives you a uniquely intimate sense of satisfaction… and if they ask for more, well, you can’t “fake” seconds!
This Shabbat our Torah reading encompasses a restatement of what animals, birds, fish we can and cannot eat. Many of the laws – or mitzvot – form the rational basis of a just society. The laws of Kashrut, however, that discuss what is and what isn’t appropriate to eat, seem arbitrary, to say the least. Attempts have been made to suggest that they were given at a time when refrigeration was unavailable. In other words, these laws were given for reasons of promoting personal health. Of course, if this is, in fact, the “reason”; given the fact that we now have refrigeration becomes a justification for abandoning these very laws!
The only rationale actually stated in the Torah is that “we are a holy nation to the Lord” (Deut. 14:21; also Lev. 11:45).
So is there, in fact, any rationale for following such laws even today?
I’d like to suggest that those commandments which appear to have no rational or practical basis to them actually do have a fundamental role in helping us understand what a loving relationship demands. Specifically if every time my lover asks something of me, I need a practical reason for doing it, you might wonder whether or not I really love them. It’s precisely those times when I demonstrate the enjoyment I experience in pleasing them simply because they asked me, that I have the opportunity to show them that I adore them.
Given how important the act of eating is, the laws of Kashrut provide an opportunity to put into reality that, Oh so familiar commandment to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might.”(Deut. 6:5)
It also gives us a living example of how to create loving relationships with our fellow human beings.