The lifestyle of a holy people is different from the lifestyle of others, just as the lifestyle of kings and princes is different from that of common folk. Hashem has left marks of distinction on Israel, His chosen nation, in numerous ways. As Rabbi Avigdor Miller, zt”l, explains, one of the foremost marks of holiness is a special diet. What’s more, Rabbi Miller explains that this special diet is not only a sign of our distinct character, but is even a cause of it.
“And men of holiness you shall be to me, and you shall not eat meat in the field of a torn carcass (22:30). The expression “to Me” means “men of holiness that are Mine.” By being holy, they become close to Hashem.
The prohibition of trefah is a cause and an effect. It is an effect of its elevated status that Israel is limited in its diet. Just as men cannot eat grass and raw meat, as do animals, and are thereby elevated by their especial diet that confers dignity upon them, so is Israel given a select diet that denotes its elevation.
But this prohibition is also a cause of Israel’s excellence. The necessity to restrain the appetite for undignified foods 1) confers aristocracy and special distinction 2) and also causes the excellence of constant self-control to refrain from forbidden foods.
By this restriction, Israel becomes ‘holy to Me.” Similarly: “You shall eat no dead carcass (n’velah)…for you are a people holy to Hashem your G-d” (Devarim 4:21) and “For you shall be holy” (Vayikra 11:45) in connection with the laws of forbidden animals (ibid. 1:44).
Although the quality of kedushah is conspicuous in the laws of forbidden food, the holiness of Israel is expressed by all other prohibitions and also by all the mitzvos: “You shall be holy” (ibid. 19:2) is said as the preface to a number of both positive and negative mitzvos.
This is because of the double excellence the mitzvos represent: the mere fact of being commanded by Hashem is a demonstration of Israel’s holiness and the fulfillment of the mitzvos confers upon Israel an additional degree of holiness.
This holiness has two aspects: 1) the closeness to Hashem that commanded this precept and 2) the setting of Israel apart from the nations, as the Israelite home is thereby rendered entirely unlike a non-Jewish home because of the kosher diet and kosher utensils, and because Jews are thus unable to eat together with non-Jews.
In the prohibition of forbidden foods we find this purpose: “And you shall separate between the clean beasts and the unclean…and you shall not abominate yourselves by beasts and fowl…which I have separated for you to make unclean. And you shall be holy unto Me…and I have separated you from the nations to be mine” (Vayikra 20:25-26).
Although the purpose of all the mitzvos is to set Israel apart from the nations and also to discourage any fraternizing, the dietary laws are a special demonstration that the body of the Israelite is a sanctuary into which only the purest food is admitted. (This holiness of the Israelite body makes it worthy of eating the offerings – see 12:8. The Canaanite slave shares this privilege of the holiness of the body.)
This is an important general purpose of all the positive and negative commandments: 1) to keep Israel apart from the nations 2) and to demonstrate that Israel has been chosen by Hashem as His holy people.
Compiled for The Jewish Press by the Rabbi Avigdor Miller Simchas Hachaim Foundation, a project of Yeshiva Gedolah Bais Yisroel, which Rabbi Miller, zt”l, founded and authorized to disseminate his work. Subscribe to the Foundation’s free e-mail newsletters on marriage, personal growth, and more at www.SimchasHachaim.com. For more information, or to sponsor a Simchas Hachaim Foundation program, call 718-258-7400 or e-mail info@SimchasHachaim.com.