By the Kalever Rebbe
Yom Kippur and kosher food go hand in hand
Rav Elchanan Halpern of London zt”l (1922-2015) once told me that his father-in-law, the Shotzer Rebbe of London, Rebbe Sholom Moskowitz zt”l (1877-1958), received a tradition of an amazing story that happened in the days of the saintly Arizal in Tzfas (16th century).
Once, the disciples of the Arizal prepared a lavish meal for a seudas mitzvah. They cooked a very large pot of fish, a very expensive dish in Tzfas, but in honor of the mitzvah they happily went all out, although they were all quite poor. They also invited many guest to enhance the mitzvah. The kitchen became very hot from the cooking, so they opened the doors and windows to cool the room down. Suddenly, a dog ran into the kitchen, jumped onto the stove, and from there into the searing pot where the dog was instantly cooked. The disciples refused to entertain relying on any halachic leniencies, and the entire pot of fish was rendered forbidden for consumption as non-kosher.
The disciples of the Arizal were quite upset at the financial loss, the embarrassment to the invited guests, and the diminished seudas mitzvah they were now going to host. Amidst their sorrow they went to ask the Arizal why Hashem did this to them, as they had good intentions to make a grand seudas mitzvah, and went beyond their means to accomplish this, as well as inviting many people to partake of the feast. So how could such a thing happen?!
The Arizal told them that there lived in Tzfas an Arab Imam who hated the Jews very much, and he often tried to convince the local Arab fishmonger to poison the fish the Jews bought. The fishmonger refused, because if only a few people died the word would get out and he would lose his livelihood. However, when a large Jewish fest was to be held and many Jews would be killed in one day, he agreed to place a deadly poison in the fish.
There was a tumult in Heaven and a Heavenly decree came forth to save them, as a mitzvah protects and rescues. There was a lost soul in Heaven that needed spiritual rectification, so he agreed to possess the body of a live dog in order to save the Jews of the Tzfas. Although the soul would suffer tremendous pain just like a living being, he agreed to do this and save the Jews by rendering the food in the pot non-kosher. His soul would thereby be rectified. Thus, we see that mitzvah observance saved the community, because if they were not diligently pious in observing the laws of kosher food, they would all have died.
From this story we can see that there is always a purpose in observing mitzvos, even if we do not see it as being so obvious. This is particularly so when it comes to avoiding non-kosher food, because there are often great temptations in this regard. One may find himself in a place where it is difficult to acquire proper kosher food, or one may simply be tempted to eat non-kosher delicacies due to a strong craving. A Jew must always remember, however, that every mitzvah in the Torah is there for his benefit and is good for the body and the soul, and he must be strong to overcome the temporary lust of eating non-kosher food, even when it is very difficult. By overcoming temptation, one is worthy to an Eternal benefit.
It is known from the Baal Shem Tov zy”a who related that the Rambam zy”a once received a letter from a certain community asking him to explain the concept of techias hameisim/resurrection of the dead. They wrote that just as there are proofs to support the concept, perhaps they were permitted to find proofs to refute it. The Rambam wrote back that from the question it is clear to him that they had been sullied with non-kosher foods. These were absorbed in their bodies and became part of their own blood, which nourished their brains, and corrupted their soul and their entire thinking process. This caused them to deteriorate spiritually and begin doubting fundamental aspects of faith, which was established and handed down to them from the beginning of time, and implanted in their souls. Such is the detrimental power of non-kosher food.
The great posek Rabbi Chezekiah da Silva (1659–1698) in his sefer Pri Chadash writes (Yoreh Deah 81:26) concerning kosher food in his day that “because in our times people aren’t scrupulous in these matters, most of our children are straying down the wrong path, and many of them are the shameless people of the generation. The fear of Hashem does not touch their hearts, and even when they are rebuked to their face they do not accept mussar.”
Therefore, we know that Tzaddikim throughout the generations taught Jews to be especially careful to avoid eating non-kosher food. I heard from Reb Meir Schwartz a”h of London, that when he started out as a shochet/ritual slaughterer in a very religiously lax community, he felt totally out of place and no satisfaction in life. It was very difficult for him to stay in an environment where the other shochetim were not pious in their religious observances as they need to be. He contemplated giving up his job and relocating to a different city, but could not make a firm decision. When the Skver Rebbe Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Twersky zt”l passed through London on his way from Europe to America after World War II, Mr. Schwartz went in to see the Rebbe and asked him about this. The Rebbe told him “it is worthwhile to undergo all of these difficulties to save even one Jew from consuming even one kezayis/olive-sized piece of neveila/non-kosher food”.
It is cited in the holy Sefer Or LaShamayim (Parshas Tzav) of Rebbe Meir of Apta, zt”l regarding the avoidance of even the slightest amount of chametz on Pesach. He says that in truth it is really almost impossible to totally avoid a tiny amount of chametz, but when a person tries his best to keep this mitzvah, Hashem sends angels to protect him. This is also true in our times. All foods contains ingredients from far off countries around the world, making it very difficult to be scrupulous in avoiding even a miniscule amount of non-kosher ingredients. A person must try as much as he can to avoid any doubt of violating the prohibition of non-kosher foods, and then he is helped from Heaven to be successful in protecting himself.
Every Jew needs to teach and demonstrate to his family, that in the matter of kosher food one does not give up anything. If there is any doubt about the kosher status of a food, for example if there is a question regarding the reliability of a hechsher, one should stay far away. His children will follow his example and grow in holiness and purity. Thus, overcoming the temporary pleasure of eating something questionable will bring eternal spiritual and material blessings.
This is one of the reasons we Jews are instructed to fast on Yom Kippur. On this holy day a person accustoms himself to overcoming his desires and cravings in order to fulfill the commands of the Blessed Creator. Although the desire to eat on Yom Kippur is strong, he overcomes it willingly and joyously. Through this, one’s soul is elevated and it helps him remember all year long to avoid non-kosher foods, and to keep all of the mitzvos with joy. This will benefit him eternally in this world and in the world to come.
Gmar chasimah tovah.