Parashat Mattot

Parashat Mattot
In this week’s Torah portion we learn a lesson about Kashrut. Kashrut is the laws concerning keeping the dietary laws. Not only what you eat is relevant, but also the vessels that you use to cook the food and serve the food. Many people believe that the Biblical instructions concerning what one may eat and what is forbidden have been repelled. Many offer Acts chapter 10 as the proof text for such a view. Proper exegesis of this passage demonstrates that such a use of the text is unwarranted.

Those who subscribe to such an interpretation make some very basic mistakes in regard to the methods of proper Biblical interpretation. First of all one must ask, what is the conclusion of the passage? The answer is that Peter was being commissioned to take the message of salvation to the gentiles. The general thinking during this time is that Jews should have no dealing with gentiles, because the gentiles worship many gods and practice idolatry.

The second error that is made concerns the vision that Peter had. First most translators fail to notice an aid which the text gives the reader to help him interpret the passage in a proper manner. When Peter saw the vision the text says,

“And he (Peter) saw the heavens opened and a certain vessel descending unto him, a great cloth, being lowered by its four corners, coming down to earth.” Acts 10:11

I have checked many of the most popular commentaries and found none to have grasped the significance of the phase “four corners”. The great sheet or cloth that is being lowered down from heaven is actually a Talit—prayer shawl. Another name for the prayer shawl is Arba Kanfot. Torah instructs one that he must place a certain type of tassel on the four corners of his garment. These tassel are made in a manner which is to remind one of the commandments of G-d (see Numbers 15:37-41). Hence it is most odd that in a passage where the context calls one’s attention to the commandments of G-d that the conclusion would be a repelling of some of the commandments. Second is that, upon the cloth that reminds one of the commandments, is birds, creatures that creep, and all kinds of other animals. Once again the commentators are quick to say that these animals are unclean. However there is nothing from the text that should lead one to such a conclusion.

The most significant verse is the thirteenth. It reads,

“And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill and eat.”

The commentators never talk about the word “kill” and its significance to the text. The standard view is that Peter refuses to eat because he has never eaten anything unclean which must mean that the animals are all unclean and G-d is commanding him to eat; so now it must mean that one can eat unclean animals. However this interpretation ignores the word “kill”. One must remember that it is not just type of animal one eats which determines if it is Kosher or not, but also how the animal was killed. Because there are special laws in how to slaughter an animal, one may not kill animal unless he has been ordained to do so.

Peter was not referring to the status of the animals when he said, “no L-rd, for I have never eaten anything unclean”. There is absolutely nothing in the text to support these animals were unclean. The text says for example that all kinds of birds were on the cloth and many birds are Kosher. It is clear from the text that the emphasis is on the word “kill”.

Peter had not been ordained to kill an animal and did not know the proper way to do so and therefore any animal he would kill, even one who was permissible would be unclean. Within the text G-d ordains Peter to go to the gentiles and not to eat unclean animals. For one now to derive from this passage a repelling of the dietary laws is exegetically flawed.

In the Torah passage (see Numbers 31:21-24) one learns a lesson not in regard to the animals which may be eaten, but the way that vessels must be prepared if they are going to be used in food preparation or in the serving of food. HaShem informs Moses that certain types of vessels must be passed through fire (heated until white hot) and then water must be sprinkled upon these vessels, while other vessels only need to be immersed in water.

These laws reflect to issues: one a removal of the influence of non-kosher food in the vessels and two the removal of the spiritual impurity.

Kashrut is a most complicated area of study, and one of its basic principles is that these laws are related to spiritual issues and not physical. That means that kosher laws are for the soul and not the body. Hence if one keeps kosher because of health issues, then such a person has totally misunderstood the premise of Kashrut.

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