Last week I posted an article dealing with my initial difficulties in keeping kosher. The article was first published on aish.com, the website of Aish HaTorah, where I received several comments with positive feedback, which was immensely encouraging to me.
One Anonymous commentator wrote: “Thank G-d it is possible to enjoy the tastes of several non-kosher foods by using substitutes. […] We are blessed with so many delicious and healthy kosher foods, I never miss the non-kosher ones!” My first, spontaneous reaction was, “lucky you – I wish I could agree”, because to this day, thirty years after the events I described, I am still beset with cravings for certain off-limits items. Thanks to Hashem’s intervention I no longer give in to those cravings, but they are lurking about on the outskirts of the premises.
Yes, there are kosher substitutes for some treif things, and they are acceptable, but no, they do not measure up to the originals. Dear Anonymous, if you had ever tasted real crab, or certain other things I could mention if I wanted to, you would know the difference – but I am glad for your sake that you haven’t.
One particular hobby horse of mine is cheese. Why can’t I get good kosher cheese? No, I’m sorry, the cheese available to me on the American kosher market doesn’t satisfy me – it wouldn’t satisfy anybody who has once known better. Incidentally, this is one of the many, many perks for me of going to Eretz Yisrael – that I can actually get quality kosher cheese. I always stock up like mad, but how much cheese can one law-abiding citizen smuggle into the country? Not nearly enough. And even then, there still seems to be certain types of cheese that are simply not made “in kosher”.
You hear the rant? This mental savoring of gustatory memories? Isn’t it despicable? Pathetic? There are times when I worry, and wonder if this makes me a bad person, an inferior Jew who is somehow less than wholehearted in her mitzvah observance.
But my second reaction is “lucky me!”, because my persistent temptations mean that I am zoche to be mekayem, I have the merit to perpetuate the essence of, this dictum by Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah: “[…] a person should not say, ‘I loathe swine’s flesh’ […] But he should say, ‘I do desire; yet what can I do when my Father in Heaven has decreed upon me [against it]?’” (cited by Rashi, on Vayikra 20:26).
That’s me – I am that person!
Do I always have this noble awareness? No, I am sorry to say that there are moments when I pout and stamp my little foot. But then I try to shift my consciousness into a higher gear, and I say to myself, “Listen, you fool, here you have the supreme opportunity to take your appetite and give it up, according to the will of your Father in Heaven, for the purpose of holiness; you are in the position – the enviable position! – of being able to bring a sacrifice, a korban, of your desires”.
Furthermore, thanks to the kindness of Heaven, I am fortunate enough to live in a place, at a time in history, when eating may take place several times every day, so each day I am able to bring this sacrifice, just like, lehavdil, the daily korbanos were brought in the times of the Beis Hamikdash.
This personal sacrifice, based on individual perceptions, which is just as much about midos and character development as it is about adherence to law, is the kind of sacrifice which we are told that Hashem likes. So it would seem that I may possibly have an advantage over all you other kosher-keeping people who don’t even know what you are missing; or who don’t miss what you do know. Not to boast, of course!
Just as I am writing this, a funny and ironic thought occurs to me: as I have indicated previously, my husband makes his living as a mashgiach, a kashrus supervisor. Could it be that the Ultimate Supervisor, Who already sent angels to support me in this particular area, thought I needed a little extra supervising? Could it mean that He was thinking to Himself, “better safe than sorry, so let Us put somebody on her case 24/7, just to make sure”? The more I think about it, the more poignant the idea becomes. And if that is so – well, then here, ladies and gentlemen, comes the inescapable conclusion: My husband is my Angel.