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Excuses Aren’t Kosher

The Torah specifies in clear terms what makes a mammal kosher. A kosher animal possesses a digestive property called chewing its cud, and the form of its hooves must be a fully cloven split. An animal that meets these two requirements is kosher; an animal that doesn’t meet both is not kosher. 

It’s not complicated; it’s not hard to understand.

But quite curiously, the Torah doesn’t leave us with its simple formulation; it specifies several familiar animals that meet one requirement, but not both and states that they aren’t kosher:

אַךְ אֶת זֶה לֹא תֹאכְלוּ מִמַּעֲלֵי הַגֵּרָה וּמִמַּפְרִסֵי הַפַּרְסָה אֶת הַגָּמָל כִּי מַעֲלֵה גֵרָה הוּא וּפַרְסָה אֵינֶנּוּ מַפְרִיס טָמֵא הוּא לָכֶם: וְאֶת הַשָּׁפָן כִּי מַעֲלֵה גֵרָה הוּא וּפַרְסָה לֹא יַפְרִיס טָמֵא הוּא לָכֶם: וְאֶת הָאַרְנֶבֶת כִּי מַעֲלַת גֵּרָה הִוא וּפַרְסָה לֹא הִפְרִיסָה טְמֵאָה הִוא לָכֶם: וְאֶת הַחֲזִיר כִּי מַפְרִיס פַּרְסָה הוּא וְשֹׁסַע שֶׁסַע פַּרְסָה וְהוּא גֵּרָה לֹא יִגָּר טָמֵא הוּא לָכֶם: – You may eat any animal with split hooves, that also chews its cud. Don’t eat animals that chew the cud but don’t have fully cloven hooves: The camel, since it chews the cud but doesn’t have a split hoof is not kosher for you. The hyrax, since it chews the cud but doesn’t have a split hoof is not kosher for you. The hare, since it chews the cud but doesn’t have a split hoof is not kosher for you. The pig, since it has a split hoof but doesn’t chew the cud is not kosher for you. (10:3-7)

The Torah says that the camel, hare, hyrax, and pig aren’t kosher because they only meet one of the specifications, almost suggesting a difference between having one sign and having neither. 

But these animals are on the non-kosher list because they don’t meet both requirements; why is the Torah bothered by the fact they possess one element of the kosher laws?

The Kli Yakar suggests that having one sign may be worse than none; one sign can present a deceptive appearance, and only a more thorough inspection dispels the illusion. 

We use excuses as justifications for a fault; an excuse’s primary function is to diminish your responsibility by getting someone to excuse or forgive your wrongdoing. Where there’s an excuse, it indicated a lesser commitment to the matter, and behind every excuse lies a real reason, whether it’s decency, energy, interest, or time.

R’ Shlomo Farhi teaches that most of us possess the clarity and self-awareness to know what we need to work on. We can hold ourselves back by clutching onto something, pointing to some achievement or progress to excuse ourselves from doing more, and that good thing or two you’ve got going for you perversely wind up being something that’s holding you back.

The Torah highlights the animals that have some things going for them, but not the whole package, drawing attention to them so that we aren’t fooled, and perhaps so we don’t fool each other or ourselves. You need to soberly define the boundaries of where you are in the physical and spiritual universe, being honest about your successes and failures.

Presenting as something you’re not is not kosher, nor are your excuses.