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At the Zoo

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Mar 21, 2011
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The first half of this week’s parsha deals with the eighth day of the dedication of the mishkan and the events surrounding it. This includes the sacrifices that were brought that day, the death of Nadav and Avihu, and the laws given following their deaths. The latter part of the parsha deals with the laws of kosher animals, birds and fish, and the laws of forbidden creeping things (sheratzim). At first glance, there seems to be no connection between these two sections of the parsha. However, it is reasonable to assume that there is, indeed, some connection between one part of the parsha and the other. As Rabbi Asher Ben – Zion Buchman notes in his work on the unity of the weekly sidrah, Bedibur Echad, the rabbis did not divide the Torah into fifty- four approximately equal sections, one to be read each Shabbos, based on length, because we find that the parshiyos vary in length from thirty verses and one hundred seventy- six. Therefore, it would seem more logical to say that the division was made on the basis of some thematic unity within each parsha. Why, then, do these laws of kashrus follow the recording of the dedication of the mishkan?

Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin, in his commentary Aznayim Le Torah, explains that once the Torah recorded all of the sacrifices brought at the inaugural ceremony, the laws of karbanos were basically completed. The Torah therefore wanted to note that the animals permitted for general consumption are more numerous than the limited number that are qualified to be used as sacrifices in the mishkan.. This explanation, however, is very technical, and one would think that a topic as important and all- pervasive in Jewish life as forbidden foods would carry a more profound message as far as its relation to the Torah section which precedes it. Rabbi Alexander Simcha Mandelbaum, in his work Ma’makim, which is based on the teachings of the Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Moshe Shapiro of Yerushalayim, cites many sources to show the deleterious effects that the consumption of non- kosher animals has on a person’s soul,. He concludes that since the mishkan is meant to bring the divine presence down to dwell among the people, the Torah teaches us, after describing in detail the dedication of the mishkan, how to maintain God’s divine presence within our daily lies, avoiding foods that prevent Him from dwelling among us. However, according to this explanation, these laws could just as well have been given at the time of the commandment to build the mishkan .I would like to offer an explanation that, on the one hand, has wider significance than the one offered by Rabbi Sorotzkin, and, at the same time, relates specifically to the moment in time at which these laws were given- after the dedication of the mishkan.

The Midrash Tanchuma to parshas Shemini relates that when God taught Moshe the laws of kosher and non –kosher animal, he held up each animal for Moshe to see, just as he brought all the animals before Adam to look at and give names to. What is the connection between Moshe’s learning the laws of kashrus and Adam learning the characteristics of the animal in order to name them? Rabbi Henoch Leibowitz, in his Chidushi HaLeiv, explains that Adam needed to have a clear idea of the nature of the animals in order to give them their appropriate names. In a similar way, Moshe needed to have a clear idea of each animal in order to know how to apply the appropriate laws to each of them. Rabbi Leibovitz concludes that in learning Torah, clarity of understanding is of utmost importance, and one should not hesitate to put in extra effort to clarify even the small details. I believe, however, that there is a deeper significance to the reference in this midrash to God’s display of the animals to Adam at the time of creation.

We have mentioned in the past the notion that the exodus from Egypt constituted a recreation of the world, or perhaps a completion, in a spiritual sense, of the original creation of the world (for more on this concept, see Netvort to parshas Bo, 5760, available at http://www.yucs.org/heights/torah/bysubject/chumash/vayikra/shemini/netvort/5760.html). . This is why we find, in kabalistic sources, that the ten plagues brought upon the Egyptians corresponded to the ten sayings with which God created the world. The redemption from Egypt culminated with the giving of the Torah and the subsequent dwelling of the divine presence over the mishkan, as explained by Ramban. Thus, the dedication of the mishkan constituted the spiritual completion of the universe. This idea is reflected in the Midrash Rabbah, cited and expanded upon by Rabbi Gedaliah Shor in his Ohr Gedaliah to parsahas Shmini, that God rejoiced on the eight day of the dedication of the mishkan as He rejoiced at the end of the original creation of the universe. Seen in this context, we can better appreciate the analogy between God’s bringing the animals to Adam to name and His bringing them to Moshe to understand the laws of kashrus.

Ramban in his commentary to parshas Bereishis says that the creation of the universe was completed only after Adam had assigned names to the animals that were brought before him. Although Ramban goes on to explain his comment in a somewhat esoteric way, perhaps we can present it using a different approach. Harvey Cox, in his book The Secular City, writes that when one names something, he is rely defining it, assigning it its function within his universe of discourse. Thus when God brought the animals to Adam to name, He was telling him to understand the place of the animals within his own life. Following this explanation of what happened in regard to Adam, we can perhaps go on to explain that after the completion of the mishkan, which constituted the culmination of the redemption process and the spiritual completion of the universe, there was a need to understand the function of the animal kingdom in that universe in a spiritual sense. For that reason, just as God brought the animals to Adam so that he could define their meaning within his universe, God brought the animals before Moshe, to explain to him the way in which God wants His people to define their function within their spiritual universe.

Following our explanation of the connection between the two sections of the parsha, perhaps we can say that it also informs the comment of Rashi on the verse at the end of Shemini, “For I am God Who brings you up from the land of Egypt to be a God unto you; you shall be holy, for I am holy” (Vayikra, 11, 46). Rashi, noting the use of the word ‘ma’aleh’-Who brings you up- rather then ‘hamotzi’- who takes you out- cites a teaching of the house of Rabbi Yishmael, brought in the Talmud , Bava Metzia, 61 b. God tells the Jewish people, explains the Talmud, that had He not brought them out of Egypt for any other reason that they do not make themselves impure with creeping things ( sheratzim), as do the other nations, it would have been sufficient cause for them to have been redeemed. Such abstention, Rashi continues, is an elevation for them, and that is why the expression’ hama’aleh’ is used in the verse. This verse comes at the end of the section in Shemini that lays out for the nation which animals, birds and fish they may indulge in and which they nay not. Moreover, the following two verses, the last in parshas Shemini, read, “This is the law of the animal, the bird, every living creature that swarms in the water, and for every creature that creeps on the ground; for distinguishing between the impure and the pure, and the creature that may be eaten and the creature that may not be eaten.” Therefore, we can view this comment of the Talmud as referring to this entire section of the parsha. We can then understand this verse as saying that by defining the function of these various living things on the basis of God’s Torah and indulging only in those that God permits to us, we are able to bring God’s presence into our daily lives, and thereby realize the ultimate purpose of the redemption from Egypt.

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