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The Crown of Halacha

Shmini 5776 – A Shift in Perception

A Shift in Perception

“Al t’shaktzu (you shall not make yourselves detestable) with any swarming thing, neither shall you make yourselves unclean with them, that you shall be defiled thereby…” (Vayikra 11:43-45).

“The Kodesh Baruch Hu said, ‘If I had brought up Israel from Egypt only that that they do not defile themselves with swarming things, as do the other nations, that would have been enough for them…(Rashi 11:45).

Is this the “dayeinu” that Hashem says about the Jews; it is enough that I brought them out of Egypt and put an end to eating bugs? And if eating swarming things is so terrible, why did Hashem wait until we were out of Egypt to make them forbidden? Even more puzzling is that eating bugs is naturally disgusting so why do we have to be told “bal tshaktzu”?

The answer is that when we were in Egypt we did not find eating bugs disgusting because we existed on such a low spiritual plane. It was only after we were redeemed and began moving up the ladder of spirituality that a different set of physical and spiritual laws applied to us.  Eating bugs became harmful for the Jews on all levels and forbidding it distinguished us from everyone else.

However, the drive to behave despicably still exists in the form of the evil inclination. Since we once ate bugs we may think it’s not so bad to do so, after all, there was a time when it was not considered repulsive and even now the majority of the world eats bugs with little hesitation. There’s even a name for it: entomophagy.  Therefore, to counter the drive to become subhuman Hashem gave us the commandment of bal tshaktzu to teach us that what was once permitted is now a disgusting act.

Let’s take this idea one step further. As a person grows spiritually, he becomes more sensitive. For example, it will become uncomfortable to be around those who dress, act or speak immodestly. Others may mistake this sensitivity for weakness; perhaps the person is afraid he won’t resist assuming the same behavior. However, this sensitivity is actually a strength that stems from greater spiritual awareness in which something that did not bother him at one time, has now become completely repulsive. This is because once a person makes a spiritual change the way he perceives his environment also changes.

Hashem is providing us with a powerful but simple way to come close to Him. Simply refraining from eating bugs, which requires no effort at all, elevates us and brings us closer to the Almighty. How thankful we must be to Hashem for bestowing upon us a regal stature that raises us above the repugnant habits that can be found in other nations. How blessed we are to be so refined!

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