Freedom from fashion and materialism

To this day courage is required to free oneself from enslavement to materialism and not to submit to the dictates of society.

Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, | updated: 16:00

מצווה. הרב מלמד
מצווה. הרב מלמד
פלאש 90

The Prohibition of Eating Tiny Insects and the Exodus from Egypt

All forbidden foods are called tameh'im (unclean), and eating them defiles the soul and seals it from absorbing holiness, as our Sages said, the word tumah (ritual impurity) comes from the language of timtum (dulling of the heart) (Yoma 39a). The tumah in the prohibition against eating shratzim (tiny insects) is especially grave, as it is said: " Do not make yourselves disgusting [by eating] any small creature that breeds. Do not defile yourselves with them, because it will make you spiritually insensitive. For I am God your Lord, and since I am holy, you must [also] make yourselves holy and remain sanctified. Therefore, do not defile your souls [by eating] any small animal that lives on the land. I am God, and I brought you out of Egypt to be your God. Therefore, since I am holy, you must [also] remain holy" (Leviticus 11:43 – 45). Our Sages said: "The Holy One, blessed be He, declared, ‘Had I brought up Israel from Egypt for no other purpose but this, that they should not defile themselves with shratzim, it would be sufficient for me" (Bava Metzia 61b).

The Egyptian Nation and Materialism

In order to understand the connection between the prohibition of eating shratzim and the Exodus from Egypt, it should be noted that the distinct characteristic of Egypt was materialism. Their pagan outlook was one of extreme materialism. They did not believe in the existence of an independent spiritual soul, but rather, thought the soul was dependent on the existence of the physical body, and enslaved to it. They went out of their way to embalm the body of the dead, because they believed the whole existence of man depended solely on his physical existence; even when he died, and could not move or speak, in all other respects he still existed. That is why they made tremendous efforts in building pyramids, which are in effect glorious cemeteries for the body. From their extreme desire for materialism, the Egyptians achieved remarkable material and organizational achievements - some accomplished with the help of Yosef Ha'Tzadik - in creating stable governmental systems, a well-developed irrigation system, and a sophisticated economic structure.

Their desire for materialism led them to impurity, namely, the separation of spiritual and moral values, to the point where that in order to accumulate money and pleasures, they turned free people into slaves, and in order to satisfy their physical lusts, violated the covenant of loyalty between man and wife in all forms of adultery. This is what the Torah meant when it commanded "Do not follow the ways of Egypt where you once lived" (Leviticus 18: 3). Our Sages said that there was no other nation in the world whose actions were more abhorrent than the Egyptians, in prostitution and incest, to the point where "the ways of Egypt" are described as: "Men marrying other men, women marrying other women, and one woman married to two men" (Maharal, Gevorot Hashem, Chapter four).

The Nature of Shratzim

In light of this, it can be explained that shratzim represent materialism, seeing as they do not exhibit any special character traits, rather, all their vitality and diligence is focused on the most material objective: attainment of food and reproducing, which is the meaning of the word "shratzim" – namely, to eat and multiply. To this end, they pollute themselves by means of all disgusting things in the world, and wherever rotting and death exists they infest, and even eat the body of man. True, such vitality has a basic existential need which also has an important place in the world, and this was Egypt's virtue – and on account of this virtue, it is said about the Israelites in Egypt: "The Israelites paru (were fertile) and va'yishratzu (prolific), and their population increased. They became so numerous that the land was filled with them" (Exodus 1:7).

Israel however, being a holy nation, are obligated to transcend and elevate reality from the impurity of Egypt, and commanded not to eat shratzim that express repulsive materialism, so they can reveal Divine value in every detail.

Inspired by the theory of evolution, about which Rabbi Kook said it contains aspects corresponding to the "secrets of the world of Kabbalah", one can imagine that in the process of Creation, the shratzim preferred to relinquish numerous qualities – provided they could continue reproducing. At first, they were created large, but when asked what they would prefer – to preserve their uniqueness, or to shrink and receive more food, they chose to become smaller. And thus, each time asked, they preferred to lose their identity and be reduced, so they could adapt their bodies to obtain as much food as possible, until in the end, they became despicable vermin. And although this existential will has its place, God commanded Israel to transcend the impurity of Egypt - the impurity of servitude to materialism, in order to bring redemption to the world (Orot HaKodesh II, 'Hit'alut Ha'Olam, paragraph 19).

Freedom

The first prerequisite for redemption is the courage to be freed from servitude. Therefore, at the beginning of the process of the redemption of Israel from Egypt, we were commanded to take a lamb which was considered an idol in the eyes of the Egyptians, and to sacrifice it, and spread its blood on the doorposts. This was done as a sacrifice to God, for true redemption can only be achieved by faith in God. In essence, every human point of view stems from servitude to certain individuals or to a particular lust, and only by attachment to Hashem our God, who is above and beyond any definition, can we escape all types of servitude.

Today's Korban Pesach: The Way One Dresses

For example: a person dresses in clothes in which he believes he will look good. However, if we delve deeper, we find that the concept of looking good is dictated by those who are considered successful. Consequently, sometimes it is difficult for a man to wear a kippa, because the most successful people in the world do not wear a kippah. And at times it is difficult for a woman to cover her head, and wear halachically modest clothing because those considered successful do not dress that way.

The willingness to sacrifice the gods of fashion, and to adhere to ways of beauty revealed in Israel's age-old traditions, which employs all the beautiful trends of the world, but does not compromise to them, is today's continuation of the bravery of the korban Pesach, and is the prerequisite for redemption and freedom – to choose to continue the word of God in the world.

Torah Study on the Holiday

However, faith and courage without Torah cannot bring redemption, and this is what our Sages said: "There is no free man except one that involves himself in Torah learning" (Avot 6: 2). This is the main goal of the holidays and Chol HaMoed, on which work is prohibited, so that Jews may engage in Torah in the light of kedushat ha'Chag (holiness of the holiday). And the mitzvah is to divide the times of Shabbat and holidays, half for Hashem, and half for you, "half for eating and drinking, and half for Torah study in the Beit Midrash" (Pesachim 68b). If this is the case on Yom Tov, when it is a mitzvah to arrange large meals lasting a significant amount of time, all the more so on Chol HaMoed, one should  devote at least half a day to Torah study (Peninei Halakha: Moadim 1: 5-6).

From the mitzvah to divide the day into two parts, half to Hashem and half to ourselves, we learn something important - that the two parts complement one another. The part of Torah study should also be done with joy, learning interesting matters that add blessing and vitality, with family members or friends, and also the part where we engage in eating, drinking, and taking trips should be filled with content of value.

Kashrut for Medicines on Pesach

Flavored medicines, like syrup, lozenges, or chewables require kashrut for Pesach. And as long as they are not known to be kosher, they should not be eaten. Only someone who is dangerously ill, and his medicine does not have a good substitute, is permitted to eat it, because pikuach nefesh (saving life) overrules the prohibition of eating chametz.

However, if the medicine is bitter or tasteless it does require a hechsher (kashrut certification), because even if it was originally mixed with chametz that was fit to be eaten, since now it is not fit as food even in a shaat dachak (time of stress), because it is even rendered unfit for a dog’s consumption, it is no longer considered chametz.

Nevertheless, some meticulously observant people try to avoid even bitter medicines that contain chametz. They show concern for the opinion of the few poskim who maintain that medicine is not considered unfit for animal consumption since we deem it significant, and it is thus rabbinically prohibited. However, halakha goes according to the opinion of the majority of poskim, who permit a person to swallow a medicine that is not fit for eating without checking it first (Peninei Halakha: Pesach 8: 7).

It should be added that the chances of medicine containing chametz are very low, even more so today, since many people are sensitive to gluten, and pharmaceutical companies do not mix grain ingredients in medicines without reason, rather, they prefer substitutes without gluten.

Do Not Possess Chametz-like Products

Some manufactures produce Pesach products that look similar to chametz products, such as wafers, cookies and rolls. However, while they do not contain chametz, as long as they appear similar to chametz products, one should be careful not to eat them on Pesach, or even keep them together with Pesach food products, lest they come to err and eat similar chametz foods, as has already happened with these products in past years. Only if a significant change has been made in the shape of the wafers or cookies can they be eaten.

A similar source for this can be found in the decree of our Sages not to bake chalavi (dairy) or basari (meat) bread in an amount eaten for more than one meal, lest one forgets the bread is chalavi, and comes to eat it with meat. If one erred and did so, our Sages decreed the bread is forbidden to be eaten (Pesachim 30a, b). If the shape of the bread is changed in such a way that members of the household will understand its' halakha is different, and ask whether it is chalavi or basari, it is permitted. However, such a sign does not permit the baking of chalavi or basari bread to be sold, lest there be people who will not notice the sign. Only when a clear sign is made where everyone understands that this bread is either chalavi or basari, is it permitted, such as a pita with yellow cheese or a strip of meat on it (Pesachim 36a; S. A., Y. D. 97:1).

Appreciation for the Rains

With the grace of God, this year we merited receiving 942 mm of rain, with the yearly average being 620 mm – in other words, 152% of the yearly average. Since the year 5752 (1992), there has never been such a blessed winter. The rains that descend on Gav Ha'Har in the Shomron area are especially blessed, since they are all absorbed in the Mountain Aquifer, the largest and most qualitative water reservoir in Israel.

In the entire country, from Hebron and northwards, rainfall exceeded the yearly average, whereas in the north and center of the country, the average was 120 to 140 percent, and in some places, 160 percent.

The rains were divided this year in a fabulous way throughout the season, so that they quenched the earth and were beautifully absorbed into the surface and underground water reservoirs.

This article appears in the 'Besheva' newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.





top