Shemini – The Holy Vanguard Elite

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At the very end of this week’s Torah portion of Shemini, while discussing kosher and non-kosher animals, the Torah says in reference to small, non-kosher animals like frogs, turtles, vermin etc., “These are the contaminated ones to you among the creepy crawlers that crawl on this earth” (Vayikra 11:29).
 The Daas Zekeinim points out that it sounds like for “you” they are a contamination, but not for the gentiles. This is what it means when the pasuk in Chabakuk (3:6) says “He gave up on the nations,” for he allowed them to eat creepy crawlers and vermin. This is comparable to two sick people who the doctor came to visit, as brought down in the Medrish Tanchuma, parshas Shemini, paragraph 6. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The medrish there is discussing how Hashem purposefully gave the Torah in public to the Jewish people after he went around to every nation asking if they wanted the Torah and each one refused. Hashem was ready to revert the waters back to the second day of creation when there was no dry land, but the Jewish people accepted the Torah, and the world was spared. At that time Hashem passed a verdict on the gentile nations that prohibitions on the Jews were permitted to them and they were even allowed to eat creepy crawlers and vermin. The medrish gave this parable to explain why Hashem did this. “A doctor visited two sick people, he saw one of them was in danger of dying, and told his family to give him anything he wanted to eat. He saw that the other one would live in the future. He said to them [his family] that you should feed him this food but not that food. They asked the doctor, ‘what is this? To one you said he can eat whatever he wants and to the other you said he shouldn’t eat this and that?’ The doctor responded to them, ‘The one who will live I said he should eat this and not that. But the one who will die, I told them whatever he wants to eat give him, because he won’t live any way.’ So to Hashem permitted creepy crawlers and vermin to the gentiles but the Jews who will have [eternal] life, he told them, ‘And you shall be holy for I am Holy’ (Vayikra 11:44) ‘Don’t make your souls abominable’ (11:43) ‘This you should eat and this you should not eat, do not be contaminated by them…’ Why? For the sake of your life, as it says, ‘And you who cling to Hashem your G-D, will all have life that day…” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
 The Daas Zekeinim brought this parable mentioned in the medrish to explain why the Jews were commanded to keep kosher, while gentiles were not only not commandedto, but were permitted to eat whatever they want, as if Hashem gave up on their lives and their purity. A purity which gives one the ability to come closer to Hashem. Why is that fair on the gentiles? How is it possible that The All Merciful All Gracious Hashem could just give up on and let the gentiles just rot like that? They are also human beings, made in the image of Hashem, with the potential to strive and to grow, to choose between good and bad?
 However, in pasuk 45, Hashem reiterates, “You shall be holy for I am holy.” The Daas Zekeinim on this pasuk says that for this reason its befitting that since Hashem is holy then His servants should also be holy, and the poet pointed this out in the liturgy of the high holy days when we say each year during mussaf, right after kedusha, “It is fitting that the Holy One be glorified by holy ones.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The Daas Zekeinim is sending us a message in these back-to-back commentaries. Hashem expects the Jewish people to conduct themselves on a different plane than the gentiles because we’re the servants of Hashem, the elite vanguard of the King Of Kings, Holy and Blessed is He. A priestly nation and a light onto the world, we are therefore treated and correspondingly expected to act in a more pure and sanctified manner. We chose life while the gentile nations rejected the eternal life. They have the ability individually, on their own, to choose life and convert. It’s a responsibility, not just an honor, which is supposed to be taken seriously. Hashem didn’t give up on the nations, the nations gave up on themselves; but they can individually come back and are accepted by Hashem if they completely accept Him.

However, because we Jews accepted Hashem when we were asked to accept Him and His Torah then even if we stray from Hashem and contaminate ourselves, He never gives up on us and is always waiting with open arms like a father to a son, for us to return and purify ourselves.