All hoofed animals that split the hoof and chew cud—those you may eat. (Lev. 11:3)
“You are what you eat,” goes the old cliche. In fact, this saying happens to contain much truth. It is partly because of this concern that we are instructed to abstain from eating certain animals whose traits we would not wish to incorporate into our psyche. Kosher animals, on the other hand, are characterized by peaceful traits that are worth imitating. [Cf. Ramban on Leviticus 11:12, et al. See also Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah, end of sec. 81.]
Even the signs that the Torah uses to identify kosher animals contain profound insights into the way we ought to lead our lives. Indeed, some authorities suggest that these signs are not only incidental symptoms by which to identify kosher animals, but rather the traits that make them kosher. But even if they are merely “incidental,” it is certainly no accident that these are the signs of the kosher animal. What is it about these signs that we are to emulate? When an animal is eaten, it leaves the animal kingdom and enters the realm of the human . . .
When an animal is eaten, it leaves the animal kingdom and enters the realm of the human by becoming the flesh and blood of its consumer. However, entering the human realm may not always be a step up for the animal. If the human it enters is not operating on the level of a true human (i.e., the animal aspects of his being are more dominant), then the animal has merely moved from one animal state to another. Only when the human is in touch with his human side, that aspect of himself by which he can be described as reflecting the image of G‑d, can the animal he eats be elevated to a higher state.
The sign of whether one is operating on this optimal level is the nature of his service of
G‑d. Is his divine service two-dimensional, including both kindness and severity, love and awe—or is it one-dimensional, limited to his natural tendencies and inclinations? Only when his “hooves are split”—i.e., his service is two-dimensional, including even those areas where he is naturally not inclined to go—can the animal he eats be elevated to the next level. The split hoof also signifies the two-pronged approach necessary in dealing with earthliness . . .
A student of a great rebbe had apparently become overly immersed in his boot business. Said the rebbe: “Feet in boots, I have seen. But a head in boots . . .?” The hoof is what separates the animal from the earth, symbolizing the need for man to remain aloof in his dealings with earthliness. Yet this barrier must be split through and through, to allow for the light of holiness to permeate even to the most mundane aspects of creation.
The split hoof also signifies the two-pronged approach necessary in dealing with earthliness: to lovingly embrace those who are estranged, while resisting the urge to water down the Torah to what we imagine will be more appealing. As the great sage Hillel said of Aaron the high priest: “He loved people and brought them close to Torah”—them to Torah, not the reverse.
Rumination, as its name suggests, is about chewing things over in one’s mind before entering the animalistic and mundane aspects of life. What are my intentions here? Am I here to elevate, or, G‑d forbid, the reverse? Can this perhaps be done in a different way that will better conform to the desire of my soul and my Creator?
Split hooves and rumination also parallel the two general aspects of the human experience, thought and deed. Rumination addresses the inside of the human being, the inner life of his heart and mind. The less sophisticated hoof parallels man’s physical actions, independent of his inner workings. To create a complete human, both of these aspects—the theoretical and the practical—must be kosher.
Copyright 2001 Chabad of California / www.lachumash.org
[Adapted by Moshe Yakov Wisnefsky from Likkutei Sichot, vol. 2, pp. 375–8, and vol. 1, pp. 224–6, and from Sefer HaSichot 5751.]