Shmini - And you shall be holy
Chananya Weissman

והייתם קדושים

[יא:מג-מה] אַל תְּשַׁקְּצוּ אֶת נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם בְּכָל הַשֶּׁרֶץ הַשֹּׁרֵץ וְלֹא תִטַּמְּאוּ בָּהֶם וְנִטְמֵתֶם בָּם: כִּי אֲנִי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם וְהִתְקַדִּשְׁתֶּם וִהְיִיתֶם קְדֹשִׁים כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אָנִי וְלֹא תְטַמְּאוּ אֶת נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם בְּכָל הַשֶּׁרֶץ הָרֹמֵשׂ עַל הָאָרֶץ: כִּי אֲנִי יְהוָה הַמַּעֲלֶה אֶתְכֶם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם לִהְיֹת לָכֶם לֵאלֹהִים וִהְיִיתֶם קְדֹשִׁים כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אָנִי:

For years I was troubled by these pesukim, which seem to be extremely redundant. The Torah seems to use a lot of words to express “Don’t defile yourselves with insects, for you shall be holy just as I am holy.”

The difficulty is compounded by the following Midrash:

רש"י (פסוק מה)

על מנת שתקבלו מצותי העליתי אתכם. דבר אחר, "כי אני ה' המעלה אתכם", בכולן כתיב "והוצאתי" וכאן כתיב "המעלה". תנא דבי רבי ישמעאל אלמלא לא העליתי את ישראל ממצרים אלא בשביל שאין מטמאין בשרצים כשאר אומות, דיים, ומעליותא היא גבייהו, והוא לשון מעלה:

I raised you up on the condition that you accept My commandments. Another interpretation, 'For I am Hashem who raised you up' - by all of them it is written 'And I took you out', whereas here it is written 'Who raised you up'. They taught in the academy of Rabbi Yishmael, had I taken Israel up from Egypt only so that they would not defile themselves with insects like other nations, it would have been enough for them, and an elevation for them. This is why the term “raising up” is used.” (Rashi from the Midrash)

If we had to choose one mitzva to be sufficient reason by itself to take us out of Egypt, for elevating us over the other nations, abstaining from eating insects would not come immediately to mind. Why is this mitzva emphasized over all others, especially considering that the average person is not burning with temptation to eat insects, irrespective of a prohibition (Makos 23B)?

Upon deeper reflection, this is in fact the very reason why this mitzva is singled out. The average person has no desire to eat crawling things – but offer them some money, or a few minutes of fame, or even simply dare them, and they will readily debase themselves. The Torah emphasizes this mitzva as reason enough to raise us up out of Egypt – not simply take us out, but elevate us – for this indeed elevates us over the other nations.

A Torah-observant Jew will not compromise his principles and his standards to succeed on a “reality” show, win a bet, or receive approval from the masses. A Torah-observant Jew does not have a price. God is holy and we are God's people. All the money in the world to eat a single bug is a non-starter, despite all the ways we can rationalize that it's “worth it” to compromise this one time.

This seems to be the true meaning of the pesukim and the Midrash.