The Netziv has an interesting thought at the end of this week’s parsha:
“Ki ani Hashem Elokeichem v’hiskadashtem v’heyisem kedoshim…
V’lo titamu es nafshoseichem b’kol hasheretz… (11:44)
Ki ani Hashem ha’ma’alesh eschem mei’Eretz Mitzrayim… v’heyisem kedoshim…” (11:45)
I purposely broke 11:44 into two lines so the two halves of the pasuk stand out from each other. The second half of that pasuk is a new lav (machlokes Rashi and the Rambam exactly what the lav teaches, but that’s another story). The first half, however, seems to fit better with the following pasuk, 11:45 which address itself to the theme of holiness as an explanation for the restrictions on various prohibited foods. Why sandwich this new sheretz lav in between these two exhortations to kedusha?
The reason we have so many dietary restrictions is because we are blessed with a neshoma that we must protect by avoiding the poisons of this world. If we fail in that mission, we don’t just become like everybody else – we sink even lower than everyone else. The neshoma’s power doesn’t go unused, but is dragged down and becomes harnessed negatively.
What the Torah is telling us is that if we fail to become kedoshim, we don’t just end up eating Big Macs and wearing blue jeans like Joe Goy, but instead we end up eating even sheratzim, insects and other repulsive things that no civilized person would partake of. The power of the neshoma serves to pull us down further and faster than anyone else would fall.
The Maharal makes the same point in a number of places. The gemara (Kesubos 66) tells us that Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai came across the daughter of Nakdimon ben Gurion picking through animal dung looking for food after the churban. Recalling that he was at her wedding and signed off on her kesubah worth a fortune, he exclaimed, “Ashrecha Yisrael! – When the Jewish people do G-d’s will, there is no one who can surpass them, but when they fall, they fall to the lowest depths of animal dung.” It’s understandable why R’ Yochanan ben Zakai would say, “Ashrecha Yisrael!” on the ability of Klal Yisrael to rise to the greatest heights, but the, “Ashrecha Yisrael!” seems to refer also their being in the lowest depths as well. How does that make sense?
Maharal explains that the fact that when we fall, we fall good and hard to the lowest depths, proves that our fall is not just some turn of history, just another accident of fate – the overwhelming force of our destruction can only be attributed to hashgacha. The same guiding force that drags us down when reversed can carry us back to the greatest heights.
The neshoma knows no passive middle ground -- it either unleashes a powerful thrust of positive energy, or leaves a gaping chasm that inevitably becomes filled with negative poison.
You really don't need a Netziv or Maharal for this point -- you really just need two eyes. Klal Yisrael is blessed with people who can rise to the greatest heights of ruchniyus. But people who don't follow that path don't become middle class accountants with 1.2 kids and a white picket fence house. No, they become the leaders in every -ism movement on the planet. Every sheretz and sheketz ideology has among its leaders a Goldberg, a Schwartz, a Cohen. I guess we should say, "Ashreichem Yisrael," because it proves that there must be something perculating there beneath the surface.