I grew up in a kosher home, and that was no small feat in Williamstown, Massachusetts. We had to drive an hour over a mountain to Albany to get kosher meat, or rely on the once-a-month deliveries to our synagogue, and of course there were (and still are) no kosher restaurants in the Berkshires.
Although there were times in my young adulthood when I was not so involved in Jewish life, one thing that I have done consistently is maintained my connection to kashrut, the Jewish dietary principles. Eating, a seemingly mundane activity, is deeply associated with who we are. My daily re-commitment to holy eating kept me Jewish even though I was not otherwise so attached to Jewish institutions and the rest of the 613 mitzvot / commandments.
Parashat Re'eh contains a captivating passage (Deuteronomy 14:3-21), one that I often reviewed intently when I was a boy. It's the list of animals that can and cannot be eaten (later to be termed "kasher", appropriate, although this word does not appear in the Torah). I have always been drawn to this list for its stark simplicity: these are in, these are out, thus says the Lord. There are clear lines, at least regarding the specific animals and categories mentioned.
What makes this so fascinating is the series of messages that can be derived from this list. Among them:
א. As temporary residents of God's creation, some parts of nature are off-limits to us. From this we learn that we must have respect for and carefully steward our planet.
ב. We must be vigilant regarding what goes into our mouths. It is just as important as what comes out.
ג. Boundaries, whether instituted by God, a parent, a teacher or a partner, are healthy, and an essential part of proper living.
You are, it is said, what you eat; this can apply nutritionally as well as spiritually. The limits of kashrut pay off not only theologically, but also in many other spheres.
בתיאבון! Beteiavon! Bon apetit!