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Parshas Shmini - The Defining Moment          26 Nissan 5781

04/08/2021 02:47:08 PM


Well, I made it, Boruch Hashem! The last time was in March of 2020 that I did something at least three or four times a year which lasted from three to twenty-five hours each time. To tell you the truth, I was a bit anxious, nervous, and uncertain as to how I was going to actually get this done. These are just a few of descriptive phrases which attempt to describe my first air flight in over a year since the pandemic changed our lives. As you may know through some of my other writings,  I do not travel well. I have a severe degree of airsickness which periodically causes me to lose consciousness by passing out. I faced this upcoming trip with a confluent concern: getting back into flying and dealing with that entire experience now compounded by wearing a mask. Although my mask-wearing experience has not been a problem, I have tended not to wear a mask since receiving the second vaccine. However, wearing masks are mandated by Federal law in all airports and on all planes – no exceptions. Everyone must wear a mask throughout the hours of travel. This makes any long-distance flight a bit uncomfortable; there is no place to turn for a breath of fresh air. As a Jew I feel an extra pressure to not only be compliant but extra cautious to avoid a Chilul Hashem. 

When booking tickets, we chose to fly the red eye, hoping that some of the restrictions regarding mask-wearing would be relaxed once the lights were turned off and there was less activity in the aisle. The irony of this is that in the airport seating is spread out by blocking out every other seat. Initially, when air travel resumed, airlines boasted that all the middle seats would be blocked due to concern for safety and health measures. Well, the overnight flight we booked was cancelled and we were booked  on a daytime flight that was totally packed – there was not a single empty seat on the plane. When it comes to the airline making money, they can compromise on our safety by no longer having even a slight degree of separation so long as everyone abides by the mask-wearing requirement. Now do not get me wrong, I do believe masks make all the difference, but guidelines and enforcement need to be handled with more seichel.

And so, yes, the world has changed, and we need to go along and change with it. After 9/11 the world changed, and we adapted to the resulting new requirements. Today, those requirements, which were so burdensome when implemented, are today  part and parcel of our culture. An entire generation has grown up not knowing what life was like before 9/11. Sad as it is, a generation of children will grow up with mask-wearing for the foreseeable future, and adults will adapt one way or another depending upon where and what the local culture and laws demand. Change is part of our existence. It has occurred throughout the past 5781 years and will continue to occur so long as we humans inhabit this planet.  To be successful, we need to adapt to each new reality. Sometimes the changes are gradual; other times change is an instantaneous jolt. 9/11 and this Covid pandemic are examples of how lives become turbulently reshaped in a flash.

Many of our electronic utensils - refrigerators, air conditioners, washers, dryers, and so forth, come equipped with filters that eventually need to be changed. Filter changes give new life and extend the productivity of the appliance. We human beings filter the situations of life on a constant basis. Sometimes, to be productive and not break down, we also need to change our "filters". It takes time and effort to accomplish this filtration,  but in the long run (and even in the short run) such adaptation or change brings stability, focus, and the personal strength necessary to successfully navigate life.


There are defining moments in life. We find in the Torah examples of people and Mitzvos  which are defined by a single instance of dramatic change. Whether it be an Akeidas Yitzchok, Moshe throwing down and smashing the Luchos, or the spies returning with a skewed view of Eretz Yisrael, life changed instantly for those who witnessed these events. But there are other more subtle indications in the Torah regarding how things are dramatically altered for better or for worse, causing lifelong change to those affected.

In this week's Parsha Shmini, the Torah states in Vayikra 11:46 (the very last passuk of the parsha) "להבדיל בין הטמא ובין הטהור, ובין החיה הנאכלת ובין החיה אשר לא תאכל"  “With this law, you will be able to distinguish between the unclean and the clean, between edible animals and animals which may not be eaten”. Let’s learn Rashi: בין הטמא ובין הטהר. צָרִיךְ לוֹמַר בֵּין חֲמוֹר לְפָרָה, וַהֲלֹא כְבָר מְפֹרָשִׁים הֵם? אֶלָּא בֵּין טְמֵאָה לְךָ לִטְהוֹרָה לְךָ — בֵּין נִשְׁחַט חֶצְיוֹ שֶׁל קָנֶה לְנִשְׁחַט רֻבּוֹ: ‎הטהור‎‎ בין הטמא ‎ובין‎ BETWEEN THE UNCLEAN AND THE CLEAN — Is it necessary to say that one should understand to distinguish between the donkey and the cow? Have they not already been closely defined as to their distinguishing characteristics? But the meaning is that you should thoroughly understand how to distinguish between what is unclean for you and what is clean for you* -  between what is forbidden and what is permitted to you; between the case of an animal whose windpipe was only half cut through by the knife, and the case when the greater part has been cut through (in the former case the animal is forbidden, in the latter it is permitted as food) (Sifra, Shemini, Chapter 12 7). *The Sifsei Chachamim explains the “the unclean” is caused by your actions, and “clean to you” is based upon your actions. This means that even if you have a kosher species animal, you determine by shechting it whether it will be “kosher” for you or not. The Ramban writes of how much difference  there is between “the greater part” and the case regarding cutting through  only half of the windpipe The difference is only a hair’s breadth.

But the defining comment (Which is really a moment without the letter c.) on this passuk is that even though up until the very last moment when the knife cuts through the pipes, this animal is forbidden because it is still alive. There is a prohibition of eating from a live animal. As soon as the knife passes though, at that split second, the animal automatically becomes pure and clean to eat.

 The name given to the knife used for ritual slaughtering is “chalif” which means ‘to change’. It is through this instrument - in less than a fraction of a second -which causes the animal to  ‘change’ from unclean to clean, from non-kosher to kosher. The laws of kashruth, according to Rav Hirsch, are not for bodily health; they are given to us by God to protect the moral integrity of our souls. Our lives are with these “moments” of change, transforming us for better or for worse; for good or for bad. Regardless of the results, we must continue to move forward, to power through these changes. Our focus must remain focused on recognizing these changes as they occur, filtering the decision-making process so as  to make positive change in our lives. Just as schechita must happen instantaneously, so too change occurs often without warning. When Covid attacked the world all of us were dramatically affected.  We all have changed. The question one needs to ask is ”Do you want to move on from the past or continue to live a life of stagnation, a life which resists moving forward?”

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Sun, September 25 2022 29 Elul 5782