Parshas Shmini discusses the various types of animals that are kosher, and those that are not kosher. At the end of this section, the Torah says (11:43), “Do not contaminate yourselves with these for you will be contaminated by them.” This is referring to the spiritual contamination of the soul which occurs by means of consuming non-kosher animals. What is intended by the repetition at the end of the verse? If the Torah says, “Do not contaminate yourselves with them,” obviously, one who does eat them will become contaminated.
The Talmud (Yoma 39a) interprets this to mean that when one makes the choice to contaminate himself with sin, Heaven will let him become contaminated further by committing additional sins. One sin opens the door for a spiritual downfall.
A man in his fifties was sentenced to the electric chair, after being convicted of murder. Before he was put to death, a man of the clergy asked him, “Tell me, when you were young, did you anticipate that you will one day become a murderer and be sentenced to death?”
“Certainly not!” he answered, “When I was a young boy, I was a prize student. I excelled in all my studies and I was very successful all around.”
“If that’s so,” asked the clergyman, “how did you end up with murder on your hands?”
“I’ll tell you my story.” answered the man. “It all began when I was in seventh grade. Despite my personal success, my family was very poor. A fad began in which kids were bringing four-colored pens to school. I desperately wanted such a pen, but my parents couldn’t afford it. I was very jealous of the other kids and I came up with a plan. One day during recess, I snuck into the classroom and stole one of these special pens from a classmate. I then took it outside and discreetly hid it. After recess, the boy was up in arms when he realized his pen was missing, and I played along with everyone else, pretending to be upset and trying to look for it. When school was over, I secretly retrieved the pen. A couple days later, I went on a walk in the park with my father. When he wasn’t noticing, I quickly took out the pen and placed it ahead on the path we were walking on. As we continued our walk, I ran ahead and shouted excitedly, ‘Look Daddy! I found a four-colored pen!” My father was happy for me, and the following day in school I excitedly showed off the pen I had ‘found.’ I was immediately suspected of stealing the pen that was lost, but my father proudly testified to the principal that I legitimately found it in the park. I thought my criminal career would stop there, and it was a while before I engaged further in such behavior. A year later, an exciting electronic game came on to the market. I wanted very badly to acquire the game, but I knew there was no way my parents could buy it for me. I devised a plan, and once again I successfully managed to steal one. Before I knew it, I was using my talents along with my superior intelligence to steal more expensive items, until I became a professional automobile burglar. In the midst of my last burglary attempt, the car owner made a sudden appearance. I panicked and struck him with a deathly blow.”
“Is there anything you regret?” asked the clergyman.
“Yes!” answered the man, “What I regret most is my first successful robbery! It was the act of stealing that pen that caused me to end up where I am today!”
This is the danger of a little misdeed. There are times in which we allow ourselves to act in a way which we know is less than ideal, and we excuse ourselves by convincing ourselves that it’s just a trivial misdeed. But even a small misdeed sets a person on a path leading downwards and there is no telling how far down a person can end up.
Before we go ahead and allow ourselves to dip slightly below the standards we know we ought to keep, we should ask ourselves, “Do I really want to open up such a path? Do I want to open the door for myself to a gradual descent?” We can never know how low we can be dragged – all because of one wrong decision.