The laws of kosher food are introduced to the Jewish people in this week’s parashah. All the commandments must be performed simply because G-d has thus commanded us. However, the Torah concludes its presentation of dietary laws with a strict warning of another reason not to partake of taref. “Do not contaminate yourselves through them lest you become contaminated through them” (Vayikra 11:43).
Mesillat Yesharim (Chapter 11) explains: “Forbidden food brings impurity into the heart and soul of a person — literally — until G-d distances Himself from the one who ate them… Forbidden foods are worse than other sins because they actually enter a person’s body and become a part of his flesh.”
In more contemporary terms: “You are what you eat!” When Moshe was rescued from the Nile by Pharaoh’s daughter, he would not nurse from the Egyptian women. Rashi explains that the mother’s milk has in it the elements of the foods she has consumed; therefore, Moshe, who was to converse with G-d, could not partake of such impurity. Mother’s milk, which is merely a by-product of what she has eaten, has in it the potential to “dull the heart and instill a bad nature in the infant” (Rema, Yoreh De’ah 81:7).
There was once a great Sage named Elisha ben Avuyah. He was the teacher of Rabi Meir! He became a heretic, denying the truth of our Holy Torah. In attempting to explain the cause of this dramatic turnaround, Rabi Natan said, “When Acher’s mother was expectant with him, she passed before a place of idol worship and smelled the aroma of the forbidden offerings. She then ate of that food and it seeped into her like snake’s venom.” Astonishing! The food eaten by an expectant mother resulted in her child, a Torah giant, to years later completely abandon the ways of our fathers.
Today, eating kosher is not as difficult as it was just a few years ago. The availability of foods and restaurants that can satisfy even the most diverse and discriminating palates has flourished and now encompasses a broad range of choices. We should take advantage of this situation and guard ourselves from the spiritual dangers of non-kosher food consumption. You will become what you eat!
Rabbi Raymond Beyda serves in the Sephardic Community in Brooklyn, N.Y. He lectures to audiences all over the world. He has distributed over 500,000 recorded lessons free of charge. He is author of the book 1 Minute With Yourself: A Minute a Day to Self-Improvement, Sephardic Press, 2008.