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Spiritual Reality

by Rabbi Dovid Bendory, Shevat 5765 (January 2005)

When teaching someone to keep kosher, the protest inevitably comes:

But rabbi, that's just not possible! How could the milk pass through the stainless steel pot and into the chicken inside, rendering the whole thing not kosher!? That just makes no sense!

It is a defining moment. The student has learned about separating milk and meat and accepted it. S/he has learned that some foods are not kosher and that others require supervision. The idea of plates and utensils becoming infused with tastes during cooking makes sense. But inevitably, we will hit a wall when some bit of halacha doesn't follow what seems to be the well-established, logical reality of the world we live in.

The thing is, keeping kosher is about spiritual realities. Generally these spiritual realities coincide with physical realities, and when they do, we use rational arguments regarding the physical realities to endorse the halacha. However, when physical realities don't coincide the halacha, we have to recognize that the spiritual reality as we understand it may not be coincident with the physical reality as we understand it.

Case in point: we have a principle that you can't willfully nullify a nonkosher taste. We also learn that a nonkosher taste that is accidentally mixed in with kosher food is annulled if it is less than 1 part in 60 of the mixture. So say 1 drop of milk accidentally falls into my meat stew — it is less than 1:60 so it is annulled and the stew is permitted.

Now say I take a medicine dropper and purposely put the same drop of milk into the same stew. Because you can't willfully nullify tastes, the entire stew along with the pot it is cooking in are now forbidden and nonkosher! But if you did a chemical analysis, molecule by molecule, and compared the two stews, you would find that they are physically exactly identical. The only difference is that in one case I added the drop on purpose and in the other it fell in by accident.

Thus my intention when the drop is added changes the spiritual reality, in one case making the pot permitted and the other forbidden. This spiritual reality changes the physical nature of the food thereby rendering one pot kosher and one nonkosher. All this is in spite of the identical chemistry of the foods in the two pots.

As Jews, we are concerned with spiritual reality, and spiritual reality is defined by halacha, not by science. So the next time something doesn't make sense, stop and ask why. Is the illogic in the halacha, or does the halacha recognize something that you don't?

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