Torah for the Times

Friday, April 20 , 2012 - 28 Nissan, 5772

Torah Reading: Shemini (Leviticus 9:1 - 11:47)
Candle Lighting Time: 7:23 PM
Shabbat Ends: 8:26 PM

Non-Food for Thought

One Sign, Not Enough

At the end of this week’s parsha we learn of the animals, birds and fish that we are permitted to eat and those species that are off limits.

The basic rule the Torah provides for an animal to be considered kosher is that it have the two signs of ma’alah geirah, chewing its cud, and mafrisei parsa, having split hooves.

Most animals that are not kosher, except for the few mentioned in the Torah, are not kosher because they lack both of these signs. There are, however, four species that are not kosher even though they possess one of the two kosher signs.

They are: the gamal-camel, the shafan-rock badger (according to others: the llama), the arneves-hare (according to others: the two humped camel) and the chazir-pig. The first three chew their cud but do not have split hooves, whereas the pig has split hooves but does not chew its cud.

Present, Past and Future

Commentators point out that there is an anomaly in the way the missing signs of these four animals are described:

With regard to the gamal the Torah employs the present tense: “he does not part the hoof.” With regard to the shafan it says: “he shall not part the hoof.” With respect to the arneves it employs the past: “he did not part the hoof.” With regard to the pig it uses the future tense for the absent sign of chewing its cud: “it shall not chew its cud.” (In most English translations these nuances are absent and they are all translated equally in the present tense.)

Why does the Torah change the tense from present to future to past?

Four Species, Four Empires

There is a Midrashic commentary on these four non-kosher species that correlates them to the four empires that exiled the Jewish people subsequent to the building of the first Beis Hamikdash, Holy Temple.

According to the Midrash, the gamal alludes to the Babylonians; the shafan corresponds to the Medians/Persians; the arneves to the Greeks and the chazir to the Romans.

To understand the changes in the tenses with respect to these four species we must reflect on the different approaches these four empires took in persecuting the Jewish people:

The Babylonians, who destroyed the first Temple, were out to extinguish the spiritual light of the Temple and of the Jewish soul.

The Persians attempted to destroy the Jewish body. Haman, the Prime Minister of Persia, succeeded in convincing its monarch to have all the Jews annihilated in one day. His focus was on the bodies of the Jewish people. Purim, the holiday that celebrates the defeat of Haman’s plan, is thus primarily a Holiday of feasting.

The Greeks directed their assault against the Jewish mind. They wanted to extinguish the light of Torah and Mitzvos. Thus, Chanukah, the holiday that celebrates the defeat of the Greeks is primarily one of spiritual activity, with the focus on lighting the Menorah.

The Romans and their successors subjected the Jewish people to all three versions of persecution. They tried to destroy our souls and bodies as well as our commitment to Torah and Mitzvos.

According to the Midrash, each of the first three nations had some redeeming quality. The Roman Empire and its heirs have none. The fact that Rome is compared to the pig, which has the kosher sign of split hooves is actually considered to be a sign of duplicity; feigning piety, while acting treacherously.

The Gamal/Babylonian Assault on the Present

With this introduction we can now understand why the gamal’s (camels’s) sign (which corresponds to the Babylonian exile) is described in the present tense.

One of the ways the forces of evil and exile try to enslave us is to attack the present. When the Torah speaks of Teshuvah (repentance or more precisely, return) it introduces it with the word “Now.”

The implication is that in order for us to change, we must not postpone our good intentions for the future. One must take the initiative now!

Similarly, when we express our desire for an end to the present exile, we must add the word “now” as in the refrain of the well-known song: “We want Moshiach, Now!”

Babylonia is known for its darkness. The Hebrew word for Babylonia, Bavel connotes confusion. In a state of darkness and confusion people tend to not know how to act; emotional paralysis sets in. In that state of darkness there is no present.

To get out of the Babylonian mindset and bring light to our souls, we must take action now.

The symbolism behind the split hoof as a kosher sign is that when a hoof is split it allows light to get through. Its attachment to the earth is not absolute. Hence, the animal can be consumed and elevated. However, there may be many reasons for the obstructive nature of a non-kosher animal and mindset. The gamal’s lack of split hooves, specifically, relates to the Babylonian exile’s darkness and confusion that prevents us from changing now because we are in the dark and confused. A gamal’s (read: Babylonian’s) version of obstruction is that it stands in the way of immediate change because one who is confused and in turmoil cannot act.

This explains why, when the Babylonian exile was over and Ezra returned with tens of thousands of Jews to Israel, he could not get the majority of them to return with him. They felt that there was no immediate need to return. The Jews were still under the influence of the Babylonian impurity and thus the second Temple was not to be the ultimate one in which G‑d’s presence would be permanent.

The Shafan/Persian Attack on the Future

The shafan (badger) corresponds to the Persian exile, which focused on destroying our bodies. This form of attack is connected to the future.

Its lack of a split hoof—alluding to its obstructive nature—manifested itself primarily in its objective to prevent the future of the Jewish people. By emphasizing that all of the Jewish people—men, women and particularly children—shall be annihilated in one day, it would have, G‑d forbid, destroyed all hopes for the future.

The Arneves/Greek Assault on the Past

The arneves (hare), which corresponds to the Greek Empire, is focused on the past. Its lack of a split hoof, which indicates its obstructive nature, is directed against our association with the past, with our roots. When we are connected to the past, to our parents and teachers, we are part of an unbroken chain that links us to Sinai, Moses and G‑d who revealed Himself at Sinai.

To keep the Jews ensconced in exile, the forces of evil attempt to sever those ties with the past by making us forget our origins and all the knowledge that we’ve stored in our collective and individual minds and hearts. The Greeks sought to afflict us with spiritual amnesia.

In the Al Hanissim prayer that we recite on Chanukah, we thus describe the Greek’s intention of getting us to “forget G‑d’s Torah.” To forget is to sever our ties with the Torah we always knew and the Mitzvos we always observed. The Greeks did not mind if we studied Torah as long as it was detached from its path back to the G‑dly revelation at Mount Sinai.

The Chazir/Roman Assault on the Past, Present and Future

And finally, the chazir (pig), corresponding to the Roman exile, which includes all subsequent periods up to the present, is a composite of all the preceding ones. In the past two thousand years since the destruction of the Second Beis Hamikdash, we have been subjected to every form of oppression imaginable. There were times when they assaulted our souls and other times our bodies. Some tried to convert us to their religion and some tried to extinguish Judaism entirely. Collectively, all of the empires of this final exile have attempted to destroy our past, present and future.

However, the chazir’s non-kosher sign of not chewing its cud is also phrased in the future because the ultimate weapon of this force of exile is to thwart the ultimate future of the Jewish people by keeping our redemption at bay. As long as we have a belief in and anticipation for the final Redemption, they realize that we are invincible. To be able to harm us, these unclean forces try to undermine our hope for and belief in Moshiach and Redemption.

Keeping Kosher: Strengthens our Past, Present and Future

In truth, all these four species and empires can be found internally.

The threats to our well-being arise when we postpone making changes, deemphasize the need to bring more children into the world and provide them with an authentic Jewish education, forget our past and when we give up our hope for the future.

Every time we eat kosher it is more than just a reminder of our vulnerability to these four empires and their destructive nature. It also generates the spiritual energy to break out of all four exiles and mindsets. And, ultimately, they are to be transformed into positive forces in which change occurs now, the future is guaranteed, our connection to Sinai is solidified even as we anticipate the full revelation of Moshiach and the true and complete Redemption.

Moshiach Matters
“And I will remove wild beasts from the land” (Lev. 26:6). According to the Midrash, this will come to fruition in the Messianic era. Rabbi Judah says that G‑d will remove wild beasts from the world, while Rabbi Shimon maintains that G‑d will neutralize their aggressive instinct, as Isaiah (11:6) prophesies, “the wolf will lie with the lamb.”
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