When Rabbi Berel Wein began working for the O.U. kashrus division, he shared an office with Rabbi Alexander Rosenberg a’h, the founder of the kashrus division and its administrator for thirty years.
Whenever a proprietor would propose a new idea to Rabbi Rosenberg he would quietly listen without uttering a word. When the person finished, he would always ask, “Und vos zugt Gott – And what does G-d say?” Rabbi Wein would impress upon his students that a Jew should always live his life asking himself that question, “Und vos zugt Gott?” Ironically, we often don’t take G-d into the equation.
In Rabbi Wein’s words, “While he was training me for the job before his retirement, he had impressed upon me the importance of our work. ‘Kashrus is more than checking chickens,’he used to say, ‘The job of the O.U. is to pay attention to G-d. “Und vos zugt Gott” is the main concern. “What would G-d say about this?” That is the question that must always be answered before making any decision.”
The conclusion of parshas Shemini discusses how to distinguish kosher animals from non-kosher animals. The Torah offers a detailed list of the credentials an animal requires to render it permissible for consumption.
At the conclusion of those laws the Torah writes, “…And you shall not contaminate your souls through any teeming thing that creeps on the earth. For I am Hashem Who elevated you from the land of Egypt to be a G-d unto you; you shall be holy, for I am holy.” (11:44-45)
The Gemara (Bava Metzia 61b) states: The academy of Rabi Yishmael taught, G-d said, “Had I not brought the people of Israel up from Egypt except for this thing, that they do not contaminate themselves via creeping insects, it would have been sufficient.” The Gemara then asks, “Is the reward for refraining from impurity of creeping insects greater than that of refraining from usury, false weights, or wearing Tzitzis? The Gemara answers, “Even though the reward is not greater, they are exceedingly disgusting to eat.”
What is the added merit of refraining from eating something because it is repulsive and disgusting?
The Ksav Sofer explains that ideally the reason why a Torah Jew refrains from eating crawling insects should not be because they are abhorrent, but because G-d commanded us not to eat them since they contaminate and enervate our souls. The goal of a Jew is to live his entire life as G-d commanded, because G-d commanded. In other words, the motive and driving force behind all of ones actions, even those actions that one would perform without the Torah instructing, should be because it is the Will of G-d. Ultimately, one must honor his parents, maintain his integrity in his business dealings, and seek to be a moral person, not because it makes sense, but because that is what the Torah demands. If one adheres to the Torah’s rulings only when he can comprehend the logic in doing so, he is perilously hovering atop a slippery slope.
The reason why we practice the laws of kashrus has nothing to do with physical health. We keep kosher simply because the Torah instructs us to do so.
In a similar vein, our Sages state, “One should not say I could never eat the meat of a pig (i.e. because it is disgusting to me)… Rather he should say, ‘I would eat it. But what can I do? For my Father in heaven has instructed me not to’… Thus, one who separates himself from sin accepts upon himself the yoke of heaven.”
I often think about this statement during the summer, when I accompany my campers to a theme park on Trip Day. As the day wears on and hunger pangs set in, one inevitably notices the tantalizing aromas of the hot dog stands wafting through the air. I am always reminded of the words, “I would eat it. But what can I do? For my Father in heaven has instructed me not to.”
It is for this reason that there is (potentially) more reward for refraining from consuming insects then from refraining from usury, faulty weights, or in the wearing of tzitzis. Most people would not entertain the notion of eating insects because the idea is utterly loathsome. But one who is able to instill within himself the notion that he doesn’t eat insects because that is G-d’s Will, has reached a far greater level.
The holiday of Pesach is called, ”Chag HaEmunah– the holiday of faith, and matzah is termed, “מיכלא דמהימנותא – the food of faith.” The holiday which celebrates the revelations, miracles, and plagues that G-d demonstrated in Egypt at the time of the exodus, impresses upon us the Divinity, Omnipresence, and Omnipotence of Hashem, the One G-d.
Seder night is the jovial celebration of the transformation that occurred within us at that time. We were no longer slaves to Pharaoh and his tyranny. We became free men; free to be slaves to G-d.
The final step of the Seder is “Nirtzah” in which we sing lyrical songs that extol the greatness of G-d and our exuberance in becoming His Chosen Nation. One of those songs is, “Echad mi yodea – Who knows One?” Prima facie, it seems like a children’s song, with little profundity. But after an entire Seder, replete with special mitzvos and a unique atmosphere, it is foolhardy to believe that we would conclude the glorious evening with children songs. What is the significance of this song?
A fellow once proposed the following question to Harav Gedalia Schorr zt’l: The Gemara (Chullin 89a) states: “Techeiles is similar (in color) to the sea, the sea is similar to the heavens, and the heavens are similar to the Throne of Glory.” Thus, the techeiles on one’s tzitzis are supposed to serve as a constant reminder to its wearer about G-d. Does any person really think in that manner – that the techeiles trigger images of the sea, which triggers images of the sky, which reminds him of G-d’s Throne?
Rabbi Schorr replied, “The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 20b) also states that it is forbidden to stare at colored clothing belonging to a woman because it may conjure up forbidden thoughts in his mind. That also seems a bit far fetched. But that point most people do seem to understand! Why isn’t that far-fetched? The reason is because we are easily reminded of things that we are focused on. That is the way our minds work. [For example, when a close friend/family member dies, G-d forbid, for some time afterwards anything can trigger a memory about the deceased.] When one allows himself to think about inappropriate things, even staring at certain clothing can trigger inappropriate thoughts. But one who is focused on G-d and His Service will be reminded of G-d when he sees the techeiles, even though it may be a far-fetched symbolism.”
The whole sequence and process of Seder night is to guide us to realize the direct involvement that G-d maintains over every aspect of our lives. By the time the Seder is over we have hopefully been emotionally and spiritually elevated and are able to see our lives and the world in a different light. Therefore, just prior to the conclusion of the Seder we start over. We go back to the most rudimentary level of learning that we are taught in our youth, i.e. the concept of numbers. But at that point the numbers take on new meaning. We do not see one apple, two giraffes, three buildings, and four airplanes. Rather, we see One G-d, two tablets, three Patriarchs and four Matriarchs. After eating the “food of faith,” consuming marror which reminds us that even the bitterness of exile is divinely ordained, after relating all of the events leading up to the redemption, and singing hallel to G-d with joyful bliss, everything takes on higher meaning.
Pesach does not end after the Seder is completed. The remainder of the holiday serves to instill within our psyche all of the lessons and levels we gained at the Seder, so that we can take them with us.
Pesach has come and passed, not passed by but passed through! Now we continue our trek towards reaccepting the Torah on Shavuos with a new view on life. After we ingrained within ourselves that there is but One G-d in the heaven and earth, and that we follow his mitzvos simply because He commanded them, we can focus on the ever integral question, “Und vos zugt Gott?”Rabbi Dani Staum
About the Author: Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW is the Rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead, as well as Guidance Counselor and fifth grade Rebbe in ASHAR, and Principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit him on the web at www.stamtorah.info.
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