What Do You Stand For?
The laws of kashrut regarding animals, fish and fowl are outlined for us
in the parsha of the week. The Torah makes strong emphasis on the
word “l’havdil” – to distinguish, to separate – in its discussion of these
In fact, in its summary at the end of the parsha, the Torah explains to us
that the main purpose of the kashrut laws is to enable us to identify and
thus distinguish between the pure and the impure, between what is proper
for human consumption and what is not.
In a deeper sense, we can see that the very essence of Jewish belief and
lifestyle is the ability to distinguish and separate the holy from the
mundane, right from wrong, constant and continuing values from passing
fads, the eternal from the fleeting temporary.
Judaism is not a “you’re okay, I’m okay” religion of relativism and
constantly changing standards of behavior and belief. It not only stands
for something – it defines clearly, in minute detail, what it is that it
stands for. Its commandments are meant to shape a person’s drive towards
holiness and immortality.
It rejects the impure and demands righteousness of behavior and the
avoidance of impurity in our thoughts, food, behavior and speech. All of
this is in line with the charge and challenge issued to us at Sinai that
we are to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
The Torah has never compromised on that demand. The laws of kashrut
described in this week’s parsha are part of that Godly demand for our
behavior to be characterized as being holy in nature.
The late great Rabbi Meir Shapiro of pre-World War II Lublin visited the
United States in the 1920’s on a fund-raising mission regarding the
construction of his yeshiva in Lublin.
He was feted and honored throughout the American Jewish community during
his visit. Even his fund raising efforts met with more than moderate
Nevertheless, upon returning to Poland he communicated this pithy comment
on American Jewry to his peers: “American Jewry has learned to make
Kiddush; it has not yet learned how to make havdalah!” Havdalah – the
ability to identify what is harmful to Jewish life and holiness and to
separate one’s self from it – is infinitely harder to deal with than is
the convivial Kiddush.
Without havdalah all succeeding generations are doomed to assimilation and
loss of Jewish identity and values. Without having degrees of real
separation built into Jewish life we are destined for spiritual extinction.
All of Jewish history has borne proof to this simple assertion. Ignoring
the Torah commandments and aping the negative attributes of the cultures
of the non-Jewish world lead to spiritual downfall and dire consequences
for both the individual and the nation as a whole.
In a general world society that exhibits very little evidence of a moral
compass, the task of being a holy and pure individual and people is
Only by acquiring the discerning skill of separation and distinguishing
correctly in all of life’s choices that we face can we hope to achieve
that lofty goal of being truly a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
Rabbi Berel Wein