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Browse Torah Articles: Sefer Vayiqra: Parashat Shemini: The Purpose of the Missvot

Contributed by: Albert Setton

Oftentimes, we feel burdened and restricted by the missvot. We sometimes wish that we were not so restrained. We wish that we would be able to do what the rest of the world does. There is a midrash on the missva of kashrout, mentioned in this week's parasha, that addresses this issue, and presents the missvot in a new perspective.

We read in parashat Shemini: "Zot HaHaya asher tochelou", "these are the wild animals you may eat". This verse is the opening commandment of eating only kosher animals. In Hebrew the word "HaHaya" is used, which means wild animals, while the word "behema" in Hebrew refers to domesticated animals. Rashi is bothered why the word Haya is employed instead of the more common word of behema.

Rashi explains that according to the midrash that the pasouq is hinting to something deeper. The word Haya hints at the word Hayim, which means life. Because Am Yisrael is close to Hashem, they are worthy of true life. Hence Hashem gives them missvot so that they could "live" in the afterlife. Other nations, do not share a special bond with Hashem, and therefore do not merit receiving missvot to guide them in life. The idea is likened to a doctor who has two patients. To one he prescribed bitter foods and herbs as medicines, and to the other he allowed him to eat whatever he wanted. He explained that the first patient had a chance to continue living; therefore, the doctor was doing everything he could to save him. The second patient, who was permitted all types of foods, had in reality no change to live a longer life, and so the doctor chose to give him no diet restrictions.

The idea behind this midrash is amazing. The missvot aren't meant to restrict us, but rather are like the medicine the doctor prescribed, which enables us to get closer to Hashem. We cannot get closer to Hashem by focusing on our material needs alone. Rather, we must focus on the needs of our neshama, our souls, which connect us to Hashem. The missvot, specifically missvat kashrut, are the guides that lead us to the path of Hashem. They are the medicine that Hashem ordered, to keep us in check and give us a heleq in Olam Habba.
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