Matos-Masei - “the Kosher Superhero”
Like any serious Rabbinical Student, I studied the laws of Kashering (the “kosherizing” of food related items) judiciously, looking for the original sources of our various laws and customs. My studies led me to this week’s Torah portion, where after we returned from war with the Midianites with great spoils, we were instructed in the purification of the non-kosher Midianite kitchen tools and cookware. As the Torah instructs (Bamidbar/Number 31:22-23) “All that went through fire should go through fire and it will be purified”.
As Rashi points out citing the Talmud, the way to purify a non-kosher item is to determine how it became non-kosher. If it became non-kosher through use of direct fire, (like a barbecue spit), it needs to be Kashered through direct fire as well. If it became non-kosher through the cooking/boiling process, it becomes kosher through boiling water. The halachic phrase K’bol’oh Kach Polto” is used: “The way it is absorbed is the way it is expelled”. So, with cooking pots for example, clean boiling water will pull out the “Treif” just like it pulled it in. This purging through water process is what we call “Hagala”-a process made famous when Chabad started doing Passover Eve public “Pot Kasherings” in major Jewish communities worldwide.
Talmudic specifics notwithstanding, when it came to Hagala I always had a difficulty fully understanding the process. Let’s say a well-meaning friend bought me some chicken soup purchased at Canters Deli (not Kosher). After heating it up but before I eat or serve anything, I find out it’s “Treif”-so I boil a huge pot with water and proceed to dip the “Treif” pot into the larger one full of clean boiling water. What happens Halachically is that as soon as the Treif pot is submerged in the larger one, all the “bad stuff” comes out of the pot into the water and the pot is, “Voila”-Kosher! But here is my problem: How come we don’t say that the second the Treif comes out of the pot, it goes right back in? How come in the Kashering process, it seems to magically only work one way. The Treif goes out, and once it’s out it doesn’t come back in???
While this clearly halachic question can be and is addressed by a much more intricate halachic discussion (engaged in by the greatest Halachic minds of the past millennia), I’d like to offer a homiletical, philosophical, if not Kabbalistic approach which carries meaning far beyond the issue of Kashrut, and which can help us navigate life itself successfully. I call it the “Evil Superhero Doctrine”.
Remember Spider-Man 3? Peter Parker reached integration as a true Superhero only after he succeeded in battling the dark suit-the evil superhero within. Superman matured in the same way as we all surely remember from Superman III – Superman vs. Clark Kent!
Here is my Chiddush: in the ultimate final judgment of our life’s work, achievements and development, the biggest question will not be whether we did such and such “bad thing”, or violated this rule or that law, but rather: did we expend as much effort and energy on positive things, for good? Maybe we were pulled in impure directions in our life, willingly or not. But did we counter that pull with a separate pull for the pure? In other words, did we seek to “expel in the same manner that we absorbed”?
I believe Hashem is teaching us through the Kashering laws, that as long as we can demonstrate a sincere will and desire to counter all the negative we absorb in our lives with the full thrust of positive “Good Superman” and “Red Spider-Man” character, Hashem will do the rest for us, and make sure that the bad and the ugly don’t travel back into our homes. That once we encounter the dark within us and battle with it, pushing it out with as much energy as was used to bring it within us in the first place, we will merit the promise of “blessed are you in your comings and goings”-our gates and our ports of entry will have the best firewall protection known to man.
We end our reading of the Torah tomorrow with the Parasha detailing our wandering-our travels: “Aileh Masei”-these are our sojourns….”. As we travel though life, we can’t stop our evil twins from joining us, but we can pay the extra fee to give them a comfortable spot locked away in the baggage section…
Good Shabbos and safe travels!