Purity of the Soul, Restraint, and Humility

Parashat Shmini - 5781
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites
Large sections of the book of Leviticus, which we are in the midst of reading now, deal with laws pertaining to the Temple and to the roles of the kohanim (priests). Other sections of the book detail the laws of purity and impurity which are also largely irrelevant for a time when the Temple is not standing.  However, in this week’s parasha of Shmini, we read a detailed section that is relevant to every Jew throughout time: the laws of kashrut.  The Torah specifies the signs upon which we can recognize which animal, fish, or fowl we are allowed to eat and which is forbidden.
Purity of the Soul, Restraint, and Humility

Kashrut is a significant part of Jewish identity.  The basic principle of kashrut is that what a person puts into his body affects not only his physical health but the purity of his soul as well.  For thousands of years, humanity has been aware that the food we eat impacts our body’s health.  As science has evolved, there has been an ever-increasing awareness of the specific influences of various foods on our bodies.  However, the effect of food on the purity of our souls is a Jewish innovation. This is not scientific knowledge, but knowledge passed down via tradition from a divine source, and as a result it has become characteristic of a Jew loyal to Jewish tradition.

In the past, foods were simpler and were composed of familiar ingredients.  It was easy to know if a certain food was kosher or not.  As the food industry developed, it became more and more complicated to know if a food item, which could be made of tens or even hundreds of ingredients, was kosher and permissible.  For this reason, there are kashrut networks around the world that operate supervision from the production of basic ingredients to the preparation of the products.  This made it possible for any Jew to know if any given product is kosher or not.

Other than the benefit in preserving the purity of the soul by observing kashrut, there is an additional, very significant benefit.  A Jew who pays attention to the kashrut of food is exercising restraint and self-control on a daily basis.

We are all aware of the abundance and availability in our world over these past few decades.  But such abundance also creates a challenge to our self-control and to our ability to delay gratification.  As our world advances in industry and technology, we also see an increased challenge to our ability to restrain ourselves and withstand attraction or strong desire.  The solution is repeatedly practicing restraint and delay of needs satisfaction.  Every Jew who keeps kosher is practicing this daily, often several times a day.  By paying attention to what is or isn’t kosher, we become more stable, responsible, and deliberate.

Kashrut also sets limits on human control over the environment.  We are used to controlling what surrounds us.  Is there any product not available for sale? If, in the past, there were products available only in a certain country, nowadays, a person can order anything from anywhere in the world with a few simple keystrokes and have it delivered within days. We feel like we can control what exists around us, and correlated with that, our egos swell, consideration of others gets trampled, ecology gets destroyed, and we attain a sense of ownership over reality.  And we hunger for more.

On the other hand, a person who keeps kosher knows: I cannot eat this food item, or drink this drink.  He gets constant reminders of the fact that he is not the owner of reality.  It is a reminder of humility in the face of creation.  A person is welcome to use and enjoy his environment, but he does not control it.

And lastly, kashrut requires us to remember the profound difference between us and living creatures: moral insight, conscience, and choice.  As opposed to animals, man can restrain his attraction and obey the divine command that forbids him from eating certain foods.  This is the glory of man and his greatness.

Today October 20, 2021

Dawn:
End of prayer time:
Mid day:
Sunset:
Purity of the Soul, Restraint, and Humility

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Interesting Facts

The Western Wall Plaza hosts approximately 60,000 people. It symbolizes the Jewish link to Jerusalem and serves as the synagogue closest to the remains of both Holy Temples.
The Western Wall's visible stones tell of its history from the time of the Holy Temples' ruin. The original Herodian stones are distinct from the others in size and in their unique borders.
The building style of "grading" used when layering the Western Wall's stones, teaches us that the Temple Mount's walls were not perpendicular but marginally sloping.
Purity of the Soul, Restraint, and Humility

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Notice for Women's Section in Tunnels

The women's section in the Western Wall Tunnels closes on Fridays at 13:00 and opens again about 15 minutes before Shabbat begins.

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