Piously Pragmatic by Ariel Felsen


Amidst a large list of laws and Mitzvot, the Torah makes a seemingly out-of-place statement regarding Bnei Yisrael’s holiness. “VeAnshei Kodesh Tiheyu Li UVasar BaSadeh Treifah Lo Tocheilu” “And you will be holy men onto me. And you should not eat the flesh of Treif animals found in the field” (Shemot 22:30). Rashi explains that the first half of the Passuk is a promise to those who fulfill the latter half. If you refrain from eating Treif animals, then you will be holy to Hashem.

However, this raises an obvious question. Mishpatim is a Parashah that is brimming with various different Mitzvot, yet the Torah chooses the Mitzvah of Treifah from among them to associate with a special status of holiness. What is unique about this Mitzvah that it serves as the pathway to holiness? The Ramban explains that all the other Mitzvot mentioned in Mishpatim prior to this Mitzvah are civil laws; laws that are accepted as obvious and logical throughout society. Therefore, one may have initially concluded that all the Mitzvot must be simply pragmatic measures. As such, one could have easily concluded that there must be a health reason or some other logical explanation behind the prohibition of eating Treifot. Therefore, the Torah states that this Mitzvah is one of holiness. In other words, this Mitzvah is not a pragmatic measure, but rather, a spiritual one. It sheds light on the true spiritual nature of Mitzvot. The goal of Mitzvot is to further our relationship with Hashem and any related practical concern is merely secondary.

The Shulchan Aruch expands on this concept and says that even necessary and mundane physical acts, such as sleeping and eating, should be performed for a a spiritual purpose. The Shulchan Aruch writes (Orach Chaim 231) that every act should be done LeSheim Shamayim, for the sake of Hashem. How can a person sleep or eat for the sake of Hashem? One must realize the potential spiritual benefits within such actions— such rejuvenation allows one to continue serving Hashem. These physical acts serve a greater spiritual purpose when properly utilized. Additionally, we see in the Mechaber’s codification of Halachah many comparisons between a meal and a sacrificial offering. The food is compared to a sacrifice, and the table compared to a Mizbeiach, an altar. This furthers the idea of spirituality inherent within physical acts. This mundane physical act of eating has the potential to serve as a means of furthering us spiritually, giving us energy to engage in Mitzvot.

Often, in the hustle and bustle of the modern world, one never stops to consider the meaning behind the things that we do. Davening and Mitzvot become routines that we mindlessly rush through, never really stopping to consider the greater meaning of our actions. We must internalize this message and realize the necessity to stop and consider the greater meaning behind our actions. Hopefully, through this consideration the spiritual experience will become much more meaningful, furthering our relationship with HaKadosh Baruch Hu.

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