June 17, 2024
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Parshas Shemini: Eating Our Way to Hashem’s Love

Some people seem to have a “green thumb.” Whatever they try to grow, be it flowers, vegetables, herbs or even trees, all grow beautifully. For some of us, we know ahead of time that it’s an exercise in futility. Ever wonder why? I may have uncovered an answer.

A few years ago, a study was conducted to determine the effect of love and care on the growth of plants. The study dealt with three plants. Each received the same amount of water and sunlight, but they were treated differently in other ways. The first plant was criticized and screamed at. The second plant got the “silent treatment.” The third plant got words of praise and lots of compliments. What happened?

Not so surprisingly, the third plant thrived and grew way beyond the other two. Think of it: a plant, with no feelings or ability to hear, was nourished with kindness and thrived. Imagine then, the huge impact that our kind words can have on everyone around us, particularly our own family!

What are the most important words a child can hear? Rav Noach Orlowek tells us clearly that those words are “I love you!” Everyone needs to feel loved and hear those special words, too! It impacts our whole demeanor and nurtures our potential to grow. The same is true with our relationship with Hashem. A loving bond is critical. When we say Shema in the morning and in the evening, the blessings before the Shema (Habocher b’Amo Yisrael b’ahava and Ohev Amo Yisrael) emphasize Hashem choosing us…with love.

Rav Simcha Bunim Cohen was newly married. His wife was the granddaughter of Rav Avigdor Miller, zt”l. One week, Rav Miller invited them for Shabbos. During the gefilte fish course, Rav Miller asked Rav Cohen, “What do you think of when you eat the fish?” Rav Cohen wasn’t really sure how to answer. “It…tastes good?” he answered. Rav Miller shook his head. It wasn’t the answer he was looking for. He then turned to his granddaughter. She knew her Zaidy’s ways, so she said, “Zaidy, I’m sensing you have something you want to share with us.” “Indeed I do,” he replied. “Whenever I eat fish, I think that Hashem gave me a special mitzvah to eat only kosher fish and not swarming creatures. Just by eating fish, I feel closer to Hashem.”

Our parsha lists many of the laws of keeping kosher. We are instructed not to eat rodents, insects and swarming sea creatures. To be honest, I don’t have the slightest desire to eat rodents or insects, even if you were to dip them in Swiss chocolate! This is only one example of Hashem giving us a very easy mitzvah to do, which helps us get closer to Him. In the enjoyable, but essentially mundane, activity of eating we have the power and opportunity to connect ourselves with the Almighty. Rav Miller teaches us that we are constantly performing mitzvos, but if we take a moment to focus and think about what we are doing, we will feel Hashem so much more.

Interestingly, the verse says we can’t eat creepy-crawly creatures because Hashem took us out of Egypt to make us holy. Rashi comments that having us observe this elevating mitzvah alone would have been sufficient reason to take us out. What an incredible benefit that we received hundreds more mitzvos to help elevate us and bring us closer to Hashem!

Similarly, the Seder song “Dayeinu” lists so many individual benefits provided by Hashem in the process of taking us out of Egypt as “being enough” of a benefit for delivering us from slavery. Why? Because each benefit took us to a higher level and shows the tremendous love Hashem has for us.

A couple was having marital difficulties. Their therapist recommended they each make a written list of why each appreciates the other. On their next visit, each one read the list out loud. They were taken aback. “Wow, I didn’t realize how much my spouse really cares for me and values what I do!” Love is a great feeling, but it needs to be expressed.

Hashem is constantly expressing His love for us through having us observe mitzvos and through open and hidden acts of kindness. It behooves us to take notice of this powerful bond we enjoy in observing mitzvos and enjoying Hashem’s kindness. It’s there all around us. It’s there every day. It’s our gift to enjoy.

By Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch. PTI has attracted people from all over northern New Jersey, including Teaneck, Bergenfield, Paramus, Rockaway and Fair Lawn. He initiated and continues to lead a multi-level Gemara learning program. Recently he has spread out beyond PTI to begin a weekly beis midrash program with in-depth chavrusa learning in Livingston and Springfield. This year he joined Heichal Hatorah in Teaneck as a Gemara iyun rebbe. His email is [email protected].

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