Food, Fellowship and Fruition

Naaleh_logo Shiur provided courtesy of

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

As its name suggests, Parshat Mishpatim is packed with laws about interpersonal relations, from how to treat a slave to damages one pays for causing assorted injuries. Also included are a few laws about our relationship to Hashem. One verse seems not to belong and begs exploration: "People of holiness shall you be to Me; you shall not eat tereifah/the flesh of an animal that was torn in the field; to the dog shall you throw it."

While we can understand that Hashem urges us to be a holy nation and, as Rashi suggests, eating forbidden foods may keep us from reaching this goal, we may question how refraining from eating non kosher food helps us in achieving this goal. Even more peculiar is Hashem's command to throw it specifically to the dog. What is the connection between these different parts of our verse?

While we may dispose of forbidden food in many ways, we are urged to throw it to the dogs. We know that dogs are very sensitive and bark at any stimuli. We are told that dogs are even sensitive to different energies. For example, they sense death. Yet, the Torah bears witness that when Hashem smote the firstborn of Egypt, no dog barked. In this verse, Hashem is demonstrating that He rewards even animals who are acting on instinct and controlled by Hashem. How much more so, can we as human beings with the power of free will, be assured that Hashem will reward us for our good deeds, writes Rabbi Dunner zt”l.

Even more than reward, as Hashem's chosen people, we are commanded to be a holy nation, a level above the justice and love of others required of all people. While we do not know the connection between the dietary laws and being holy, Rabbi Munk zt”l suggests that teaching us restraint in our interaction with the physical world, beginning with food, is a necessary initial step in achieving this holiness. Observing the dietary laws consecrates the body so that it becomes a vehicle for harmony between the body and the soul, between the physical and the spiritual.

This point is so important that Rabbi Rabinowitz claims that eating non kosher food severs the connection between a person and Hashem. He urges us therefore to be extremely careful in what we consume, ensuring that every bite conforms to the laws of kashrut.

How is food the catalyst for connection? In Worldmask, Rabbi Tatz reminds us of simple biology. Food is the energy that keeps the spiritual soul within the physical body. It is the connecting link between the two. Thus, food itself performs a spiritual function and is elevated. In fact, argues Rabbi Tatz, all segments of creation can be elevated when consumed by a higher level in the food chain: Minerals absorbed by plants become part of the plant; plants consumed by animals are elevated as they become absorbed into the animal; finally, animals (and all lower strata of creation) are elevated when absorbed by Man. Thus, the righteous, spiritual man elevates all creation by connecting it to the Creator.

Even on a simple level, food is a means of connection, whether at holidays, social celebrations, or rites of passage [or even this Sunday's Super Bowl parties]. And when eating is done properly, Hashem Himself joins in, with simple Grace after meals, or further connection of three or ten eating together inviting Hashem to join them. Therefore, one should attempt to share some Torah thoughts at every meal.

It is this function of connecting within food that provides pleasure beyond simple nourishment. A sense of unity, of wholeness, is the source of pleasure, while unity and disharmony [physical, spiritual, or emotional] is the source of pain. Therefore, it is food that is a major component of our Jewish rituals, for it connects us to the Source of all unity, the Creator of all.

We are told that our table is compared to an altar before Hakodosh Boruch Hu. In Tehillim, we say, "Prepare a table before me against my oppressors." The Tosher Rebbe zt”l explains that I should invest the food I eat with an element of kedushah/sanctity so that it can be a force against the yetzer horo. So we check for kashrut, we recite a brachah mindfully, and we exert self control over what and when we eat.

The Tosher Rebbe zt”l continues. He tells us that our physical hunger for food is often a symptom of a spiritual hunger for connection to Hakodosh Boruch Hu. We can connect to Hashem down here, in the physical world. This was the connection Amalek tried to sever. They may have agreed that Hashem exists in heaven, but He has no connection to us under the heavens. If you eat just for the sake of physical pleasure, without investing sanctity in the experience, you are, at the very least, giving some credibility to Amalek instead of erasing their memory. Therefore, don't eat treifah, that which has been torn by force and severed from any element of sanctity.

With this in mind, we can expand our understanding of treifah to include all food which is inappropriate for our consumption, even if it is technically kosher, writes Rabbi Birnbaum zt”l. Because it creates impurity of the soul, only the holy people are forbidden to eat this food. Our elevated souls bear an increased sensitivity. And this is how rewarding the dogs with this food rather than merely discarding it becomes relevant.

Rabbi Birnbaum zt”l explains that since dogs are sensitive to the energy of death, of impending earthquakes and storms, although Hashem prevented the dogs from barking at the death of the firstborn Egyptians, not barking was painful to them. Our elevated sensitivity on what we are allowed to eat, mirrors the dogs' sensitivity, and we are told to reward the dogs for their pain.

The three parshiot from Yitro to Mishpatim and Terumah are all connected. Their joint message is meant to keep us a holy people, a step above the other nations. As Rebbetzin Smiles adds, the other nations know this truism instinctively, and therefore hold us to a higher standard.

But the Torah does not say only to be a holy nation, but to be a holy nation to Me, points out Rabbi Bloch zt”l in Peninei Daas. Our purpose is not to elevate only ourselves, but to connect the whole world to Hashem. It is in this context that Rabbi Bloch zt”l suggests when time and resources are limited, it is more important to invest in bringing others to connect to Hashem than in self improvement. Bringing others closer to Hashem will have a ripple effect on all future generations. This is the goal of creation, to make the entire world a Godlier place. Therefore, even when I am self improving, learning a new concept, for example, I can share it with others and uplift them as well. As Rabbi Frand quoting the Rambam zt”l reminds us, to truly love Hashem is to share that love so others love Him as well.

The Oshover Rebbe zt”l brings a different dimension to our discussion. He notes that forbidden food, tereifah, can also refer to the kodesh, the sacred food that is removed from its designated holy place for consumption. In this context, the Oshorover Rebbe zt”l quoting the Zohar HaKadosh extrapolates that we must be careful to see that no one of the people commanded to be holy to Me leaves the confines of the sanctity designated for the holy people. When we are commanded to emulate Hashem, we should reflect that being compassionate to others is not limited to supplying someone with their physical needs, but includes helping them in their spiritual needs as well. This includes bringing those distant from Hashem back to a close relationship with Hashem, as well as bringing those already connected to Hashem to an even closer relationship with Him.

The dogs, by not barking, were also sanctifying God's name. The Sifsei Chaim zt”l explains that during the plague of the firstborn there was a tremendous uproar and crying throughout the land of Egypt. If the dogs had added to the noise, one might have thought that there was crying also in the homes of Bnei Yisroel intermixed with the general hue and cry. Since there was silence everywhere except from the Egyptian homes, it was clear that the devastation was only in the Egyptian homes, that Hashem differentiated between the Egyptians and Bnei Yisroel, thereby sanctifying His name. Since the dogs were instrumental in sanctifying God's name, to separate the sacred Bnei Yisroel and the profane Egyptians, we gift them with the meat deemed unholy for Bnei Yisroel.

But sanctity is not only about refraining from the impermissible. To be truly holy is to elevate the permissible to a spiritual level, to use all things as a means of connection to Hakodosh Boruch Hu. As the Slonimer Rebbe zt”l says in Netivot Shalom, we are commanded to do what is right and good in the eyes of Hashem. In every action we do, we should ask ourselves not only if the action is pleasing to Hashem, but if I am doing it in the best way, most pleasing to Hashem. We are His children, the sons and daughters of the King. Let us maintain the dignity of our position.

Being a holy people and doing what is upright in the eyes of Hashem means going beyond the letter of the law and recognizing the dignity of each other. See the higher vision, not just the mistakes. It is this point that Rabbi Broide emphasizes as we are urged to throw the treifah to the dogs. Rabbi Broide quotes the Da’at Zekinim M’Balei Hatosafot who note that these dogs are the sheep herding dogs whose barking keeps predators away. Occasionally, they may be ineffective, and a wolf killed one of the sheep. Don't judge the dog on this one lapse; reward it for its past [and future] service. This is a life of fruition, of emulating Hashem.

Being a holy nation unto Hashem means elevating all aspects of our lives to His service and taking lessons from all His marvelous creatures.