Parshas Shemini - Why Don't Humans Eat More Bugs?

By BJLife/Ori Strum

Posted on 04/08/21

Parshas HaShavua Divrei Torah sponsored by
Dr. Shapsy Tajerstein, DPM - Podiatry Care.
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“They’re Healthy. They’re Sustainable. So Why Don’t Humans Eat More Bugs?” is the name of a recently published news article from Time Magazine. The author writes that approximately two billion people, mostly in Africa, Latin America and Asia, already eat insects. And in places like Europe and North America, where bugs were once upon a time associated with filth, the attitudes are changing to normalize the consumption of creepy crawlers.  

The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says that agricultural production worldwide will have to increase by 70% in order to feed the global population expected to reach 9.1 billion by 2050. However, the demand for animal protein is increasing the strain on the environment, and decreasing meat production would actually help “remove the pressure to expand livestock operations while freeing up existing land to restore native ecosystems and increase biodiversity.” The FAO offers a sustainable alternative to going meat-free. That is, edible insects. Many species of insects are “rich in protein, and contain significantly higher sources of minerals –such as iron, zinc, copper, and magnesium – than beef.” Pound for pound, insect farming and processing requires less land, water, and feed than traditional livestock, and in addition, it produces lower greenhouse gas emissions. 

Enough said. We are living in creepy times. The world, even in the more sophisticated and upscale socioeconomic sectors, is becoming more and more aware of the health benefits of eating bugs. A few examples of edible insects are beetles, caterpillars, bees, ants, and crickets. It is becoming more normal to use insect flour, eat roasted salted crickets, and sprinkle beetle larvae over salad! 

In Parshas Shemini, the Torah strongly forbids us from consuming שרצים, insects. Of course, Hashem knows about the physical benefits of consuming bugs. After all, He created them! However, like everything in life, there is always the spiritual factor that cannot be ignored. For the sake of our spiritual soul and רוחניות experience here on This World, Hashem told us not to eat these creepy crawlers. But why?  

If you will remember, in the section of Maggid of the Haggadah shel Pesach, we quoted the verse from Shemos (1:7): וּבְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל פָּר֧וּ וַֽיִּשְׁרְצ֛וּ וַיִּרְבּ֥וּ וַיַּֽעַצְמ֖וּ בִּמְאֹ֣ד מְאֹ֑ד וַתִּמָּלֵ֥א הָאָ֖רֶץ אֹתָֽם – “The Jewish people were fruitful, teemed, increased, and became strong – very, very much so; and the land became filled with them.” The Sforno points out that the word "וישרצו" comes from the root word "שרץ", which refers to a creepy crawly. He explains that the Torah is telling us how the Jewish people started behaving disgusting and lowly like insects – נטו לדרכי שרצים. The very next verse says that “A new Egyptian King got up” and a new era, an era of Jewish slavery, turmoil and subjugation began. 

Rav Kopelman shlit’a, based on this Sforno, explains that unlike humans who hold their heads up high, the heads of שרצים are focused on the lowly ground. Homiletically, he says that you can read the words ותמלא הארץ אתם as follows: The Jewish people became filled with ארץ, with אדמה, with the gashmius and lowlines of Egypt. This was the beginning of their downfall and lowly state in Egypt. 

If it was שרצים – acting lowly like insects – that brought us down, then it is the avoidance of שרצים – running away from an attitude of שפלות, lowliness – that will surely elevate us. It is no wonder, then, why the Talmud in Bava Metzia (61b) says: “Had I (G-d) not brought the Jewish people UP from Egypt except to abstain from consuming שרצים, it would have been enough!” 

In Judaism, the opposite of שפלות (lowliness) is קדושה (holiness). Eating שרצים, despite its health benefits, is not conducive to a life that is קדוש. We are forbidden to consume creepy crawlers because we don’t want to spiritually influence our holy selves to be earthly and lowly. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that the Gematria (numerical value) of שפל (410) is the exact same as קדוש (410). The choice is ours. Will we follow the rest of the world and eat insects, thereby creating an atmosphere of lowliness? Or will we avoid these “foods” and create a personal aura of holiness?