The following essay, written by Michelle Natanova of Richmond Hill, an eighth grade student at Yeshivat Ohr Haiim, was named a Winner of the 2012 OU Kosher Essay Contest for grades 7-12
Hashem gave the Jewish people the special privilege to keep kashrut. Kashrut is a decree that we just do because God commanded us to; we do not understand why we are doing it. When one keeps kashrut, he only eats pure, fit, and halachically permitted food. Even when one eats non-kosher food unintentionally, the non-kosher food becomes a part of a person and has harmful effects. Hashem is making us keep kashrut because He loves us; Hashem only wants the best for us and our health.
I am so lucky to keep kashrut. Not only am I fulfilling one of the misvot of Hashem, but I am also benefiting myself in many ways. By keeping the laws of kashrut, I am eating healthier food. The meat is kosher; it is clean from blood. We only eat tahor animals, such as chickens, sheep, and cows. We do not eat wild animals, for we do not want to become like wild animals. In addition to everything that the Jewish people gain from kashrut, it is truly amazing that the animals are not harmed when being slaughtered. Therefore, the animals are kosher.
Another reason the Jewish people are blessed to keep kashrut is that we gain self-control. We have to be aware of our lives, and therefore, we have rules. Because there are steps to eat something, we gain self-control. Firstly, we check if the food is kosher or not. Next, we think whether we had dairy or meat. Then, we make a berakhah on the food. Finally, we eat the food, and then we say the berakhah akhronah. These steps help us to have self-control and become better people. The Jewish nation is not like the other nations of the world, which cannot control themselves. We do not act like animals; we think before we do things.
By eating kosher food and making a berakhah on it, we divulge Hashem’s presence into the physical world. Eating is a physical thing, and it is good for our body. However, when we add kashrut, we reveal Hashem’s presence in the world and make eating spiritual. This way, ingestion is also beneficial for our soul.
The kosher signs on foods are what allow me to eat the foods. When I see the kosher sign, I feel that I can trust that the food was supervised by a rabbi and that it is kosher.
The kosher sign on a food also means a lot to me. I feel that it is special when I look for foods with a kosher sign. Searching for a kosher sign on a food is one of the many things that make the Jewish people unique. We are not like the Goyim who just buy and eat any food they like; we look for the kosher sign with happiness and zerizuth. It makes the Jewish people holy and separate from the other nations when we eat only kosher food. I think it is amazing that many of us can buy kosher food without even thinking about it, because we are so used to it.
A story is brought down from Stories of Spirit and Faith, by Rabbi David Sutton in conjunction with Miriam Zakon, about R’ Shalom Chasky dealing with a kashrut problem. The inviting fragrance of a beautiful Shabbat dinner filled the home of R’ Shalom Chasky. A delicious meal awaited the people assembled around the table of the Chief Rabbi of Ein Tab, a small town located near Aram Soba. R’ Shalom said kiddush slowly, pronouncing each word with care, his eyes resting on the dancing flames of the candlesticks. When kiddush was done, the family and visitors washed their hands and took a bite of wonderful homemade bread. All eyes turned toward the kitchen in anticipation of the delicacies to come when R’ Shalom dropped his bombshell. “Please bring us olives and lettuce,” he told his wife. “We may not eat the meat tonight. It is not kosher.”
His wife and all the other guests stared at R’ Shalom in shock. The Chacham was known to be thoroughly careful in matters of kashrut, and his wife only bought from the most reliable sources. How could the food possibly be unkosher? But there was no arguing with R’ Shalom, and his guests contented themselves that Friday night with olives and bread dipped in oil and lettuce leaves as a crunchy, but not terribly tasty, side dish.
The next morning R’ Shalom stood up at the bimah of the synagogue and rapped loudly. He then made the same surprising announcement: “No one in the community may eat meat this Shabbat. It is not kosher!”
Again, there was a shock among the people, but no one dared question their respected leader. Early Sunday morning R’ Shalom called together the community leaders and instructed them to carefully check the status of kosher meat in Ein Tab. Within a short time a startling fact was discovered: One of the seals of the community’s kashrut organization was missing! They made careful inquiries and soon the truth came out: Arab swindlers had stolen the seal and marked an entire lot of meat with it. All the meat sold for Shabbat had been non-kosher! The community leaders quickly dealt with the problem, and kosher meat was once more available. Then they returned to report to the chief rabbi. “R’ Shalom,” one of them asked curiously, “how did the Chacham know that the seal had been stolen and the meat was not kosher?”
“I knew nothing of the stolen seal,” R’ Shalom answered, “but as I recited the holy words of kiddush, I saw letters form before my eyes. They turned into the words ‘achalnu ma’achlot asurot’, ‘we have eaten forbidden foods.’ I knew then that something was terribly wrong, and that the food we thought was kosher was not.
We see from many stories of our Chachamim that if one tries to keep Kashrut, Hashem will help him the rest of the way. I feel proud that by keeping kosher, I am fulfilling Hashem’s commandment and am receiving benefits from it. I think that the Jewish people should appreciate the misvah of Kashrut and not think of it as a burden.
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