(Torah Portion Shemini) Appreciation!

The Torah identifies kosher animals and fish based on distinct physical characteristics. However, when it comes to fowl, the Torah lists the non-Kosher fowl by name, and the remaining species of fowl are kosher.

The ultimate reason G-d took us out of Egypt was for us to accept and follow His commands, thus the Torah concludes the laws of Kashruth by saying, “I am G-d who elevated you from the Land of Egypt to be a G-d unto you; you shall be holy for I am holy.”

Because our liberation from Egypt was a fundamental and defining moment for the Jewish people, setting us apart from all nations of the world to become G-d’s nation, not only are the laws of Kashruth linked to our Exodus from Egypt, so are many of our Mitzvos, for example: Shabbat, Holidays and Tefilin.

Not only does the Exodus place demands on our actual Mitzvah expression, it is also instructs us concerning our mindset, interactions and relationship with others. In particular, we learn to exhibit a sense of appreciation towards someone or something from which we had benefit.

Allow me to explain:

A) Since both the waters and the land had saved Moshe in various times in his life, when G-d brought the first three plagues upon the Egyptians they were generated by Moshe’s brother Aaron and not by our leader Moshe. This was because these plagues commenced through hitting the waters and land with a staff, an act that would have shown ungratefulness to them.

B) During the plague of the slaying of the first born Egyptians, the Jewish first born males were spared by G-d, and therefore the first born Jewish males were sanctified. This sanctified status made the first born eligible for the Priesthood, which continually reminded them of the gratitude they must have for being spared from death.

C) The Torah relates that the vicious dogs that the Egyptians raised, and used against the Jews, did not sharpen their tongue, as the Jews were leaving Egypt. This means that the dogs exercised restraint and did not bark. As a reward for this restraint, the Torah instructs us, that if we have Traif – non Kosher meat, we should throw it to a dog.

D) Our Sages tell us that when the Jews left Egypt, they were so laden with Egyptian wealth, that each person needed 90 donkeys to haul their load. As an expression of gratitude for an animal that carted its normal capacity, the Torah commanded that a Jewish owner is required to redeem the first born male donkey from a Kohain – Priest. This is the only non Kosher animal that is thus sanctified.

E) The Torah delineates that the descendants of certain evil nations may never join the Jewish nation through marriage. However regarding the Egyptians it states, “You shall not reject an Egyptian, for you were sojourners in his land.”

Although the Egyptians enslaved, harmed and killed the Jewish people, we are however enjoined to treat them kindly, since they provided food and lodging when our forefather Yaacov and his family had to be there.

Nonetheless, if an Egyptian converts to Judaism, they must wait until the third generation – until the tendency of wickedness works its way out of their offspring – before they can marry a Jewish person. (However, they may marry a convert.)

Thus we see that even where we suffered tremendous brutality – we must dig deep to show a sense of gratitude.

Our Egyptian experience and Exodus, teaches, trains and molds us to feel and exhibit a sense of gratitude when faced with any possible situation or circumstance.

Through the laws of Kosher and all laws linked to the Exodus, we formally express and show our gratitude to the Almighty, who personally redeemed us from Egypt and considered us worthy of redemption.

This is the ultimate and most essential expression of gratitude.

Wishing you a restful, peaceful
and inspirational Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks