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.