No sooner than the Mishkan, the temporary Sanctuary in the desert, is dedicated, the Torah proceeds to discuss the laws of Kashrus: which animals, fish and fowl are permissible for consumption.

Commentators ask why the Torah addresses this particular subject at this point. Is there a connection between the dedication of the Sanctuary and the dietary laws?

Another question relates to the timing for the reading of Shemini. This year, we read it right after the Festival of Passover. This proximity suggests that there is also a connection between the kosher diet and Redemption.

In truth, both connections are there and are themselves related. Our consumption of food parallels the offering of sacrifices in the Temple. In both scenarios the animal is elevated to a higher spiritual plane. In the case of the Temple sacrifices, a single offering had the power to affect animals on a macro level, including our internal Animal Souls. When we consume kosher food we accomplish the same effect on a micro level. Consuming kosher food is our individual way of elevating the physical world and paves the way for the Redemption that will commence with the building of the Third Bais Hamikdash.

To better understand the power of eating kosher food let us reflect first on the two signs the Torah gives us to identify the species of animals that are kosher, fit for consumption.

The two signs are enigmatic. How is it possible that an animal’s split hooves and cud chewing make it worthier for our consumption than an animal that lacks these two signs?

This question leads us to consider the physical properties and functionality of these two signs:

The Idle is an Idol

Before we reflect on the significance of the split-hoof, we must first discuss its prerequisite — the hoof itself.

An animal uses its hooves to get from one place to another.  Most hoofed mammals graze for their food. They must often travel long distances in a day to find food and water, and when threatened by predators they prefer to flee rather than fight. It is therefore important that they be able to walk or run for a long time. Hoofed mammals have hooves because this extremely hard surface helps them travel across rough ground.

In short, the hoof enables the animal to get from one place to another without hurting its feet. The hoof facilitates travel.

For an animal to even be a “candidate” for being kosher it must possess hooves because they signify a mandatory human trait: the desire to get from one place to another. Staying in one place results in stagnation and will prove to be destructive to one’s very life.

The Talmud, in its discussion of the mutual obligations husbands and wives have in their marriage, states that a wife should not delegate all of her domestic responsibilities to maids notwithstanding her family’s immense wealth.  No person, the Talmud says, can be allowed to remain idle. Idleness can lead to all sorts of immorality and vice.

On the surface this appears difficult for us to understand. How can otherwise decent and refined people go astray just because they have time on their hand?

In truth, it is not that idleness leads to immorality; idleness is itself immoral.  Idleness contradicts the very raison d’etreof our existence. “A person was born to toil,” states the Biblical book of Job. We have been created to be in motion every moment of our lives. Seen from this color: rgb(34, 34, 34); font-family: arial, sans-serif; font-size: 12.8000001907349px; background: none 0% 0% repeat scroll white;">The Fast Horse

To illustrate the point, there is a story of a brilliant young chosid who rebelled against his parents’ Chassidic ways and strayed from Judaism. His Rebbe (in one version I heard from my grandfather, a”h, it was the Ba’al Shem Tov; in another version I heard it was the Tzemach Tzedek, the third Lubavitcher Rebbe) approached him and posed the following question:

“Which is better, a healthy steed or an old, crippled horse?” (I think one may still use the term “cripple” for a horse, even in our p.c. world.)

The young man was puzzled by the absurdity of the question, but when pressed to give an answer, he replied, “Why, certainly the healthy horse is better.”

The Rebbe demurred. “A healthy horse can stray very far from the road, while a crippled horse cannot stray so far.”  

“Aha” countered the young man, “but a healthy horse can always return to the road, when it realizes it has strayed…”

The Rebbe did not need to elaborate on the message the young man himself had blurted out.   He was the healthy steed who, though he may have strayed far, remained capable of returning to the proper path with lightning speed. In fact, that is exactly what he did!

Idleness is wrong but not because it can lead to vice. Idleness is a vice all by itself and that is why it can easily lead one to other vices. In fact, inactivity is a direct assault on one’s very existence. 

An Animal Soul without hooves cannot be kosher; lack of hooves is a sign that one has no desire to move, which can frequently be more dangerous to the soul than moving in the wrong direction.


Once we have ascertained that a person’s Animal Soul is aware of its raison d’etre, we can can check for the rest of the first sign, for it is obvious that mobility in and of itself is not kosher unless it goes in the right direction. The right direction is determined by a higher source; a source of light and true enlightenment. That light comes from multiple, but related, sources. The light is both the G‑dly light of Torah and Mitzvos and the light that emanates from our G‑dly Souls. For the internal Animal Soul to benefit from the guiding direction of G‑dly light, it must be open and receptive. That is the meaning of the split hoof: it is an aperture through which the light can enter and guide the Animal Soul in the correct direction.

However, an animal’s split hooves, while an absolute prerequisite for it being kosher and permissible for us to consume, does not suffice. The animal must also chew its cud, which is a metaphor for persistent reflection on our direction in life. If we were primarily conscious of our G‑dly Soul, with our Animal Soul being a mere interloper or even a reluctant guest, we would not have to worry too much about the Animal Soul’s ability to distort the G‑dly Soul’s illumination. In reality though, the Animal Soul dominates our consciousness most of the time. The danger is that when the G‑dly Soul sends its message to our conscious mind it will become muddled and we will misinterpret the meaning. To eliminate that possibility, we must go through repeated exercises of reflection and introspection before allowing our “Animal” to go in any direction.     

Exile is Not Kosher

The Midrash links the non-kosher animals listed in the Torah to our various periods of exile. Exile is mistakenly thought of primarily as a time when we have been driven out of our land and persecuted by the powers under which we find ourselves. This is only partially true. An even more serious effect of exile is the sense of comfort we can begin to feel as we adjust to our exile conditions. After a while, we cease longing for return to our Land and rebuilding the Bais Hamikdash. Golus-exile becomes tolerable.

Indeed, we have just celebrated Passover, concerning which the Torah relates G‑d’s declaration to the Jewish people about their deliverance. G‑d promises to liberate them and uses four expressions of redemption, corresponding to the Four Cups of wine we are required to drink at the Seder.

The very first statement was: “I will take you out from under the burdens of Egypt.” The Hebrew word for burden can also be rendered “tolerance.” Hence the verse can now read: “I will take you out of the [state in which you developed a] tolerance for Egypt.” Even before G‑d promises to save the Jews from their slave labor by the exodus from Egypt itself, G‑d promises to take them out of their tolerance and acceptance of exile.

Even before we remove the shackles of exile (“… and I will save you from their labor”) which is the first active stage of Redemption, we must first cultivate a desire to get out of exile as expressed in the first part of the verse: “I will take you out of tolerance for Egypt.” Those who remain inactive and lack the initiative needed to get out of Golus - because they have learned to tolerate it - lack the very foundation necessary for Redemption.

Once we learn to become intolerant of exile, we can then proceed to throw off the shackles of the Animal Soul and enjoy complete Redemption, as expressed in the subsequent words: “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you as a people for Myself and I will be a G‑d to you…”

To become the beneficiaries of G‑d’s “outstretched arm,” we must have “split hoofs” and “chew our cud” to make ample and uncluttered space within our animal ambitions for G‑d’s “outstretched arm.”

It is no mere coincidence that the Torah mentions a kosher diet in the reading after Passover, and in the context of the dedication of the Sanctuary. By introducing light into our Animal Souls, which direct it towards Redemption (“split hooves”), and by never ceasing to regurgitate these thoughts (“chewing of the cud”) it guarantees that the Divine energies unleashed during our Redemption from Egypt will be repeated with even more vigor in the Final Redemption.