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Vayikra/Leviticus 11:47 Its purpose is to distinguish between the unclean and the clean (CJB)
According to the Ramchal, the word (tamey) originates in the Hebrew word 'atum', which means 'sealed off' or 'impermeable', whereas (tahor) has the implication of 'transparent' or 'porous'. In modern Israel, the phrase 'cheder atum' is only too familiar as the 'sealed room' that all new homes and apartments are required to have in case of poison gas attack.
But the Torah is using the words in a more spiritual sense: it is telling us that even in the everyday world of food, where there are things that are good and bad for us on a physical level, there is also an important spiritual lesson to be learned. Commenting on a few verses earlier in the chapter, the sages of the Talmud note that the word 'tamey' in verse 43 is deliberately misspelt without an aleph so that the word takes on the meaning 'stopped up' (Yoma 39a). Just as too much fat in our physical diet causes a thickening of the arteries and high cholesterol levels in the blood leading to angina and other serious heart conditions, so in the words of Rabbi Yishmael, "a transgression had the effect of stopping up a person's heart."Rashi comments that this means closing the heart to receiving wisdom.
Modern consumers have learnt to read the labels on the foods we buy in supermarkets. Many processed foods contain the warning "may contain traces of nuts" because of the life-threatening allergic reactions that some people may have to even the minutest amounts of nut in their food. Those with wheat or dairy intolerances may suffer hours of discomfort or misery from casually eating a dessert containing flour, cream or butter.
Some of the kashrut commands may seem arbitrary and even with the benefit of modern science and medicine we may not understand why they have been given. But just as eating food to which our physical bodies are sensitive will provoke an allergic reaction, whether we know the allergen is present or not, so the spiritual choices that we take affect our spiritual lives and relationships with G-d, whether we are fully aware of it or not. As the Torah says, "I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have presented you with life and death, the blessing and the curse. Therefore, choose life, so that you will live" (D'varim 30:19, CJB).
Further Study: 2 Corinthians 6:14-18; Matthew 5:19
Application: According to 1 John 1:6-7 there is a choice between walking in darkness and walking in the light. We need to be aware of these choices in our lives. Are you 'tamey' or 'tahor' ?
© Jonathan Allen, 2004
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