Dedicated by David and Eda Schottenstein

When Religion Is Based on Lies, It Becomes Meaningless
Better an Ugly Truth than a Beautiful Lie

Seven Refrigerators

The rule in Israel at one time was that a new immigrant could bring in ordinary household items duty free. But anything that looked like as if it was for resale in Israel was supposed to be subject to import taxes.

Jack Levine, a new oleh, goes to the Haifa port to claim his household goods that have arrived by ship. The officer notices on the manifest that Jack is bringing in seven refrigerators.

"Mr. Levine," says the officer, "one refrigerator is allowed duty free, not seven." 

"But I'm very religious (frum,) and I need one refrigerator just for meat, one just for dairy, and one just for parve," says Jack.

"All right," says the officer with a sigh, "that makes three.  But seven?"

 "Well, of course," says Jack, "I need three for most of the year and another three, meat, dairy, and parve, for Pesach."

"OK," says the officer, losing patience. "That makes six. What's the seventh one for?"

"Nu, so what if I like to eat a little treif once in a while?"

A Lesson in Integrity

Few things are as necessary to a life of serenity as integrity. In October 1985, the famous racquetball player Reuben Gonzolas was in the final match of his first professional racquetball tournament. He was playing the perennial champion for his first shot at a victory on the pro circuit. At match point in the fifth and final game, Gonzolas made a super "kill shot" into the front corner to win the tournament. The referee called it good, and one of the linemen confirmed the shot was a winner.

But after a moment's hesitation, Gonzolas turned and declared that his shot had skipped into the wall, hitting the floor first. As a result, the serve went to his opponent, who went on to win the match.

Reuben Gonzolas walked off the court; everyone was stunned. The next issue of National Racquetball Magazine featured Gonzolas on its cover. The lead editorial searched and questioned for an explanation for this first ever occurrence on the professional racquetball circuit. Who could ever imagine this in any sport or endeavor? Here was a player with everything in his favor, with victory in his grasp, who disqualifies himself at match point and loses.

When asked why he did it, Gonzolas replied simply, "It was the only thing I could do to maintain my integrity."

Gonzolas can teach us all a lesson: you will never be a winner if you haven’t really won.

It is a lesson the Torah conveys in this week’s portion in a very powerful way.

What is Kosher?

It seems nothing more than a question of syntax. But the sages across the generations understood that what appears as a flaw in biblical syntax and grammar contains invaluable insight into the human condition.

In this week’s portion, we learn of the identifying signs of a kosher land-animal: it must chew its cud (meaning it ruminates and its partially digested food returns to its mouth for further chewing and digesting), and it must have split-hooves.[1] Hence the cow, sheep, goat, deer, gazelle, and even giraffe, are kosher. The donkey and the horse, on the other hand, lack both of these features, and are not-kosher.

The Torah then lists four animals which possess only one of these signs, and are deemed not kosher. They are: the camel, the hyrax, the hare and the pig. The camel, hyrax and hare while chewing their cud, do not have split feet, and the pig while having split feet does not chew its cud. These animals are classified as temeim, non-kosher.

In the words of the Torah:[2]

אַךְ אֶת-זֶה, לֹא תֹאכְלוּ, מִמַּעֲלֵי הַגֵּרָה, וּמִמַּפְרִסֵי הַפַּרְסָה: אֶת-הַגָּמָל כִּי-מַעֲלֵה גֵרָה הוּא, וּפַרְסָה אֵינֶנּוּ מַפְרִיס--טָמֵא הוּא, לָכֶם. וְאֶת-הַשָּׁפָן, כִּי-מַעֲלֵה גֵרָה הוּא, וּפַרְסָה, לֹא יַפְרִיס; טָמֵא הוּא, לָכֶם.  וְאֶת-הָאַרְנֶבֶת, כִּי-מַעֲלַת גֵּרָה הִוא, וּפַרְסָה, לֹא הִפְרִיסָה; טְמֵאָה הִוא, לָכֶם. וְאֶת-הַחֲזִיר כִּי-מַפְרִיס פַּרְסָה הוּא, וְשֹׁסַע שֶׁסַע פַּרְסָה, וְהוּא, גֵּרָה לֹא-יִגָּר; טָמֵא הוּא, לָכֶם.

But these animals you shall not eat… the camel, because it brings up its cud, and does not have a [completely] cloven hoof; it is unclean for you. And the hyrax, because it brings up its cud, and does not have a [completely] split hoof; it is unclean for you. And the hare, because it brings up its cud, but does not have a [completely] cloven hoof; it is unclean for you; And the pig, because it has a hoof that is completely split, and does not regurgitate its cud; it is unclean for you.

Two Questions

There are two important questions here. First, why does the Torah single out these four one-signed animals as non-kosher? Why does the Torah not say simply, that any animal which lacks any or both of the two signs, is not-kosher? Just as it does not specify all of the animals which lack both signs (nor does it specify the animals which possess both signs) it need not specify the names of the four animals which have one sign.[3]

Second, when the Torah presents the reason for these animals not being kosher, it does so in a very strange fashion, mentioning its kosher factor as the primary cause for its non-kosher status: “But these animals you shall not eat… the camel, because it brings up its cud, and does not have a cloven hoof… And the pig, because it has a hoof that is completely split, and does not regurgitate its cud.” We would expect the Torah to state it differently: “The camel because it does not have a cloven hoof, even though  it  chews its cud…  the pig because it doesn’t chew its cud, even though it  has split hooves.

If you would want to explain to someone why he is not an American citizen, you would not say: “You are not a citizen of this country because your parents were born here, but you were not.” The proper way of saying it would be: “You’re not a citizen because you were not born here, even though your parents were born here."

Yet in our case, the Torah does the exact opposite, stating that the camel or pig are not kosher because they possess one kosher sign, and are devoid of the second kosher sign.

Stop the Lie

It was the Keli Yakar, the commentary on the Torah authored by Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim of Luntschitz, 1550—1619,[4] who deduced from this an astonishing message.[5] It is not only what these animals lack which deemed them un-kosher, but also that which they do have, the one kosher sign, that made them non-kosher. The camel is treif because is chews its cud (and lacks split hooves); the pig is treif because it has split hooves (and does not chew its cud).

Why? Because possessing one kosher sign allows these animals, symbolically speaking, to deceive themselves and others that they are kosher by “showing off” the single kosher sign.[6] So the Torah is telling us: Don’t eat “the camel, because it brings up its cud, and does not have a cloven hoof… And the pig, because it has a hoof that is completely split, and does not regurgitate its cud.” It is also—and primarily—the single deceptive kosher sign which deems these animals unsuitable for Jewish consumption.

And that is why the Torah specifies these four animals, not including them with all other animals who lack both of the kosher signs: All animals lacking both signs are not kosher because of what they lack; with these four animals, it is not only what they lack, but also what they have which deems them un-kosher.

Human Dishonesty

Of course, these animals are not hypocritical and dishonest by nature. Animals are usually honest. Rather, their physical characteristics are symbolic of moral qualities and when we eat them, these qualities effect our psyches, like all food which has a deep impact on the consumer.

Each of us must struggle against various unhealthy and immoral, non-kosher instincts, appetites, habits, addictions and cravings. But there is something which can at times be more lethal for our wellbeing: dishonesty about who we really are.

What causes me to become un-kosher is not so much that I am not-kosher, as much as it is me deceiving myself and making believe that I am kosher. The greatest enemy of true religion, of any authentic relationship with G-d, is to be dishonest about my identity.

Yet, sadly, we often observe the opposite. Some religious circles thrive on dishonesty, on people making believe they are morally “perfect,” and have no un-kosher struggles. The more you “fit in” and do not reveal your truth to anybody, the more you are accepted and the more religious you are considered, when it truth it is all a sham.

In many communities and schools, people feel the pressure to always say and feel the “right things;” they are frightened to be vulnerable about their genuine emotions and struggles. They feel the need to live the lie that they are perfectly “kosher,” even if that means that they need to cover up a part of themselves.

Nothing can be further than the truth: the foundation of a moral and meaningful life is that I can be real and “naked” with G-d, with myself and with my close friends; that I can expose myself without facades. When religion is based on lies, it loses its purpose. In the world of Torah, the ugly truth is superior to the beautiful lie.[7]

This does not mean that I must fall prey to every struggle, and surrender to every appetite. Often I must subdue my cravings to live up to my true calling and essence. I need to confront and battle my addictions and bad habits. But I must never deny who I am and what I am dealing with. I must show up to G-d with my entire self, not with a psychologically mutilated sense of existence.

Forcing yourself to be someone else in order to gain popularity, and not having the integrity to be brutally honest with yourself leaves you drained, empty and spiritually dead. There is no spirituality without full honesty.

The Two Candidates

In the mid-1980's researchers at Cleveland State University made a startling discovery. They conducted an experiment by creating two fictitious job candidates David and John. The candidates had identical resumes and letters of reference. The only difference was that John's letter included the sentence "Sometimes, John can be difficult to get along with." They showed the resumes to a number of personnel directors. Which candidate did the personnel directors overwhelmingly prefer?

The one who was difficult to get along with, John.

The researchers concluded that the criticism of John made praise of John more believable. Admitting John's wart actually helped sell him.

It is this lesson that the Torah communicates in Shmini. Admitting flaws gives you more credibility, even in your own eyes. Psychological vulnerability is the key to a meaningful life.

The Man in the Glass

I once read a poem, entitled “the man in the glass:”

When you get what you want in your struggle for self and the world makes you king for a day,

Just go to the mirror and look at yourself and see what that man has to say.

For it isn’t your father or mother or wife whose judgment upon you must pass,

the fellow whose verdict counts most in your life is the one staring back from the glass.

He’s the fellow to please – never mind all the rest. For he’s with you clear to the end.

And you’ve past your most difficult test, if the man in the glass is your friend.

You may fool the whole world down the pathway of years, and get pats on the back as you pass;

But your final reward will be heartache and tears if you’ve cheated the man in the glass.

The Seed

Let me tell you a story.

Once there was a beloved emperor in a small country who was growing old and knew it was coming time to choose his successor. Instead of choosing one of his assistants or one of his own children, he decided to do something different.

He called all the young people in the kingdom together one day. He said, "It has come time for me to step down and to choose the next emperor. I have decided to choose one of you." The kids were shocked! But the emperor continued: "I am going to give each one of you a seed today. One seed. It is a very special seed. I want you to go home, plant the seed, water it and come back here one year from today with what you have grown from this one seed. I will then judge the plants that you bring to me, and the one I choose will be the next emperor of the kingdom!"

There was one boy named Ling who was there that day and he, like the others, received a seed. He went home and excitedly told his mother the whole story. She helped him get a pot and some planting soil, and he planted the seed and watered it carefully. Every day he would water it and watch to see if it had grown.

After about three weeks, some of the other youths began to talk about their seeds and the plants that were beginning to grow. Ling kept going home and checking his seed, but nothing ever grew. Three weeks, four weeks, five weeks, two months, three months, went by. Still nothing.

By now others were talking about their plants but Ling didn't have a plant, and he felt like a failure. Six months went by, still nothing in Ling's pot. He just knew he had killed his seed. Everyone else had tall plants, but he had nothing. Ling didn't say anything to his friends; he just kept waiting for his seed to grow.

A year finally went by and all the youths of the kingdom brought their plants to the emperor for inspection. Ling told his mother that he wasn't going to take an empty pot. But she encouraged him to go, to take his pot, and to be honest about what happened. Ling felt sick to his stomach, but he knew his mother was right. He took his empty pot to the palace.

When Ling arrived, he was amazed at the variety of plants grown by all the other youths. They were beautiful, in all shapes and sizes. Ling put his empty pot on the floor and many of the other kinds laughed at him. A few felt sorry for him and just said, "Hey, nice try."

When the emperor arrived, he surveyed the room and greeted the young people. Ling just tried to hide in the back. "My, what great plants, trees and flowers you have grown," said the emperor. "Today, one of you will be appointed the next emperor!"

All of a sudden, the emperor spotted Ling at the back of the room with his empty pot. He ordered him to come to the front. Ling was terrified. "The emperor knows I'm a failure! Maybe he will have me penalized!"

When Ling got to the front, the Emperor asked his name. "My name is Ling," he replied. All the kids were laughing and making fun of him. The emperor asked everyone to quiet down. He looked at Ling, and then announced to the crowd, "Behold your new emperor! His name is Ling!" Ling couldn't believe it. Ling couldn't even grow his seed. How could he be the new emperor?

Then the emperor said, "One year ago today, I gave everyone here a seed. I told you to take the seed, plant it, water it, and bring it back to me today. But I gave you all boiled seeds which would not grow. All of you, except Ling, have brought me trees and plants and flowers. When you found that the seed would not grow, you substituted another seed for the one I gave you. Ling was the only one with the courage and honesty to bring me a pot with my seed in it. Therefore, he is the one who will be the new leader!"

This is a metaphor for life. Each of us was given his or her “seed,” his or her body, psyche, and soul. The saddest thing you can do is try to mimic other people because you dislike your own seed; to live your life based on other people’s expectations, so that you gain their approval and feel successful, even if that means repressing your own seed and using the seed of another. Only when you become completely honest with your own condition and reality, confessing that your seed has grown nothing, can you truly make something of yourself and become a genuine source of leadership and inspiration to yourself and others. Only when you can embrace the truth of your soul, can you discover the infinite light of G-d that radiates through you. 

[1] Leviticus chapter 11.

[2] Leviticus  11:4-7

[3] One explanation for this is that this serves as a proof that Torah is Divine. As the Talmud puts it (Chulin 60b, and Sefri to Deuteronomy 14:7), “was Moses a hunter or an explorer?” How did he know that there would be no other animals that would be discovered with one sign and not the other? No man would have the audacity to make a binding list of four, if not for the fact that the Torah was dictated to him by the creator of all of the animals. (See Talmud Chulin 59a, Torah Temimah Leviticus 11 section 17.)

It is a fascinating fact: after thousands of years and the discoveries of untold new animal species, we have not discovered any animals with one kosher sign that do not belong to the camel family or the pig family. For in all other animals, the two signs work in sync: either they posses them both, or lack them both. This is incredible. Why would the author of the Torah write a book in the name of G-d knowing that he may be proven a liar once new animals are discovered?!

Some argue that this proof is hard to understand scientifically today, because what we call today the hyrax and the hare, the Shafan and Arneves in the Hebrew text, do not chew their cud. Yet it seems that we do not know conclusively anymore what the shafan and arneves are, and perhaps they are extinct. Regardless, it is illogical to assume that Moses did not know that the common hare did not chew its cud. It is very conspicuous. Alliteratively, the Torah might be saying that they appear to be chewing their cud although they actually don’t in the conventional way. The fact is that they do regurgitate part of their refuse. (This would fit with the explanation of the Keli Yakar in this essay, that it is the appearance which matters most.)

It should be noted, that there are other animals that have one sign and not the other, for example the llama which, like its cousin the camel, has split hooves and does not chew its cud. The Torah was referring to the camel family, not only to the individual camel.

[4] Born in 1550 in Lenczyk, Poland (also known as Luntschitz) and studied under the Maharshal, Rabbi Solomon Luria in Lublin, and subsequently served as Rosh Yeshiva (dean) of the yeshiva in Lvov (Lemberg), Poland. In 1604 he was appointed rabbi of Prague, a position he filled until his death in 1619. In the introduction of his Keli Yakar he relates that the name Shlomo was added to his name during a life-threatening illness.

[5] Kelei Yakar Leviticus 11:4.

[6] See Midrash Rabah Bereishis 65:1 (quoted in Rashi Genesis 27:34) why Esau is compared to a pig, who spreads out its hooves to show that it s kosher. In Yiddish there is an expression: “kosher vi a chaser fus,” kosher as the foot of the pig, meaning externally moral, and internally rotten.

[7] See Yuma 69b. Rashi to Genesis 37:4. Keli Yakar ibid.

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Class Summary:
In the mid-1980's researchers at Cleveland State University made a startling discovery.
They conducted an experiment by creating two fictitious job candidates David and John. The candidates had identical resumes and letters of reference. The only difference was that John's letter included the sentence "Sometimes, John can be difficult to get along with". They showed the resumes to a number of personnel directors. Which candidate did the personnel directors overwhelmingly prefer? The one who was difficult to get along with, John.
The researchers concluded that the criticism of John made praise of John more believable. Admitting John's wart actually helped sell John.
It is this lesson the Torah communicates in this portion in a brilliantly elegant way. Admitting flaws gives you more credibility. Psychological vulnerability is the key to a meaningful life.