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Shemini

Thursday, 28th March 2019

This week's parsha (Torah portion) contains the first occurrence of the laws related to identifying Kosher animals, fish, and fowl in the Torah. The pasuk (verse) says: "But this is what you shall NOT eat from among those that bring up their cud or that have split hooves: the camel (gamal), for it brings up its cud but its hoof is not split (parsah einenu mafris) – it is impure to you; and the hyrax (shafan), for it brings up its cud but its hoof is not split (parsah lo yafris)– it is impure to you; and the hare (arneves), for it brings up its cud, but its hoof is not split (parsah lo hifrisa) – it is impure to you." [Vayikra 11:4-6].

There is a striking inconsistency here. With the camel, the verb used to discuss the fact that the hoof is not split is conjugated in the present tense: "Parsah einenu MAFRIS" [the hoof IS NOT split]. Yet with the shafan, the verb is in the present "Parsah lo YAFRIS" [the hoof WILL NOT BE split]. Finally, with the arneves, the verb used is in the past tense: "Parsah lo HIFRISA" [the hoof WAS NOT split].

This is glaring. The terms should all be present, all future, or all past tense. There has to be a message here in the fact that the Torah uses a different form of the verb for each of these three animals.

A beautiful homiletic thought on this matter: When someone is about to pronounce "Tameh" [Impure] on a species or on any entity, one needs to be aware of its past, its present, and its future. Unless one is aware of the situation in the past, present, and future, one does not know the whole story and should not be so quick to pronounce the words "Tameh hu" [this one is impure].

One of the teachers at Bais Yaakov told the following story: There was a couple who went through the Holocaust. Before the Holocaust, they were fully observant of Torah and Mitzvos (all of it's commandments). After the Holocaust, unfortunately, the husband lost faith and said "That's it! I've had it with G-d!" The husband gave up every thing in terms of religious practice and belief.

His wife did not have that reaction. She begged her husband -- "At least go to shul (Synagogue)." The husband refused. This went on for a while. Finally the wife said to the husband, "Listen, do me a favor. Every morning you go out and buy a newspaper and you read it from cover to cover. Humor me, when you pick up the paper at the newsstand, rather than coming home to read it, go to shul and read the paper in shul -- just to make me happy!"

The husband wanted to please his wife. He spent the time reading the newspaper anyway, so he agreed to her proposal. He would go to shul every morning, sit in the back row and read the paper. This went on for years.

Now ask yourselves: If you saw a fellow come into the back row of your shul every morning, not put on Tallis (prayer shawl) or Tefillin (Phylacteries), not take a Siddur (prayer book) off the shelf, but simply make himself comfortable and read the newspaper for 45 minutes, what would your reaction be?

Most likely our reaction would be very negative. "If you want to read the newspaper, go home and read the newspaper! How dare you be so disrespectful of this holy synagogue?"
 
To their credit the people in this particular shul did not say anything critical to this individual. They did not chastise him. They began to schmooze (chat) with him, they invited him to join them for a l'chaim (drink) after davening when someone had a Yahrtzeit, they invited him to join them in social gatherings. To make a long story short, this Holocaust survivor went from reading the newspaper in the back row of the shul every day to davening in shul three times a day! Eventually, he even became president of the shul.

What does that tell us? Our inclination would have been to immediately pronounce "Tameh who lachem -- this species is definitely not a kosher animal"! But we did not know the fellow's past. We were not clear about his present situation, and we certainly could not have guessed what his future turned out to be. This is what the Torah is teaching. In order to proclaim "This one is Tameh" we must know that the hoof was not split in the past, the hoof is not currently split, and the hoof will never be split in the future. 
 
Short of that do not be so quick to say "Tameh hu lachem."

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