Parshas Shemini – Pure Pork

Kosher Pork? There is nothing more “treif” (non-kosher) than a pig.

Pig has always represented the prototype of impurity, the quintessential “treif” (non-kosher) item.  In Hebrew, the very word for pig has become a common epithet used to refer to all repulsive, unwanted items or behaviors – even those having nothing to do with food.  Something really disgusting is chazzer treif – as unkosher as a pig!

And yet there is an obscure kabbalistic teaching that seems to take a more benign view of the pig. Using a play on the Hebrew word for pig – chazzer – which in Hebrew also means “return,” the kabbalists make the following shocking statement:

“Why is it called ‘chazzer’? Because one day G-d will return it to us!”

Now before anyone goes out to have some bacon and eggs – let us make it clear that the “one day” the kabbalists speak of is not here yet. As of today pork is very much NOT kosher. Some kabbalists understand “one day” to refer to the Messianic Era and the worldwide purification that it will usher in, when even the pig will become kosher. But it seems to me that, as is the case with most kabbalistic teachings, there is a deeper message in play.

Rather than telling us the future kosher status of pork chops,  the kabbalah is telling us a message about repentance and redemption.  If we understand the pig  to represent all that is dirty and despicable, we might say that we all have much “pig” in our past, whether literally in the digestion of the forbidden white meat, or in other very non-kosher behaviors. But it is all redeemable – all those activities that are presently very much on the negative side of our spiritual scorecard can be “returned to us” if we turn our lives around.

The most obvious examples of turning a negative past into a positive future are ex-convicts, former alcoholics, or drug addicts, who are in a unique position to influence others in a positive way. Their forsaking of a very “chazzer treif” past is what allows them to motivate others. But it doesn’t have to be that extreme. G-d has a plan for the world and for every individual, and every act has the potential to be redeemed towards the ultimate good.

Of course one cannot engage in harmful behavior with the intent of redemption. In such cases, the negative ways usually get so deeply entrenched that the journey out is extremely painful, if even possible at all. It’s far better to stay away from the “pig” in the first place. But keep the message of the purified pig of the future close at heart – it represents the potential purity that is within reach of each and every one of us.

 

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