A Kabbalistic Look at Chewed Cud, Split Hooves



Insight into: Re’eh 

Have you ever put on glasses that colored your view of the world? Without the glasses, you saw one thing, and with them, the scene looked completely different.

Within the Torah, we have the ability to make this magical transformation. You can open the Bible and read the literal meaning, but if you put on kabbalistic glasses, the story or law suddenly takes on a deeper meaning. 

Take the laws of kashrut, for example. In this week’s parsha, Re’eh, the Torah outlines the required signs for an animal to be considered kosher: “You may eat any animal which has a split hoof … if it chews the cud.” (Deuteronomy 14:6) 

These are the words of the Torah, and this is how Jews have observed the laws for thousands of years.


Chasidic philosophy, which is based on kabbalah, teaches that there is always a deeper layer to every law and story in the Torah. 

Let’s look back at the verse about a kosher animal through the kabbalistic lens. Within every one of us, there is a little “animal.” In Chasidic terminology it’s called the “animal soul.” 

This is where we get the survival instinct; to eat and drink and do everything that humans and animals have in common. 

The Torah tells us that this little animal within us must be kept kosher! How do we do that? By chewing the cud and splitting the hoof. 

Chewing the cud literally means that the animal, such as a cow, digests its food for a second time. But there’s a deeper meaning of “chewing the cud.”


At times, thoughtless comments come out of our mouth and bring much grief to our relationships. Here the Torah gives us some good advice: If you want to protect yourself from “putting your foot in your mouth,” before you make a comment, “chew it over!” 

Split hooves also has a spiritual message for us. 

In the Torah, there are two categories of mitzvot (commandments). There are mitzvot between man and man, and those between man and G‑d. People often gravitate to one type over the other. 

Some may be very observant with the mitzvot between man and G‑d. They keep a strictly kosher home, observe Shabbat, etc. But when it comes to the mitzvot between man and man, they are not as careful.


On the other hand, many Jews pride themselves on their moral standards. They honor their parents, give charity, visit the sick, but they are not as enthusiastic when it comes to the mitzvot between man and G‑d. 

A Jew must split his hooves n he must be equally committed to G‑d and to his fellow man. These two are not a contradiction; they actually complement each other. 

Rabbi Zushe Greenberg is the spiritual leader of Solon Chabad.