“These are the creatures that you may eat from among all the land animals: any animal that has true hoofs, with clefts through the hoofs, and that chews the cud – such you may eat.” (Leviticus 11:2-3)
Parashat Sh’mini helps to answer the question of how humans can reflect God’s holiness. One way is through the laws of kashrut (keeping kosher). The food we put into our bodies is understood as critical in our being holy vessels, and Leviticus chapter 11 delineates what animals are and are not considered acceptable to eat.
Rabbi Morris Allen in Text Messages: A Torah Commentary for Teens (ed. Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin), uses the laws of kashrut to explain the importance in Jewish thought of consistency between what is external and what is internal. Citing the verses above, he explains that it is not enough for animals to have split hooves (the external); they must also chew their cud (the internal). Allen wrote his commentary after having helped uncover corruption in an American kosher meat-producing plant; the meat was technically kosher, but the treatment of the workers, not to mention the animals, was completely unethical. There was an inconsistency between the external and the internal.
These days, we put tremendous emphasis on messaging, as well we should. But how aligned is our external messaging with what is going on “inside the walls”? Do our parental leave policies reflect our commitment to family? Are men and women receiving equal pay for equal work? Do we walk our talk regarding the importance of the environment and sustainability? These are not simple questions. We have much to be proud of and, at the same time, are there additional steps we can take to align our external messages with our internal practices?
The Torah is providing a template for what it means to be authentic and to strive for holiness. Let’s continue to find ways to put our money (and energy and policies) where our mouth is.