Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Tosefet Bracha Shmini 1

Parsha of the week - Shmini.
Tosefet Bracha (R' Baruch Halevi Epstein)

“And the stork (chasida)” 11; 19
The Talmud (Chulin 64a) explains why this bird is called a chasida (kind one), because it does kindness with its friends. Rashi explains that it shares it food with them.
From here we have to ask a question on the words of the Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim. He gives the reason for the kashrut laws and the prohibition of eating impure animals because their nature is bad and their qualities are cruel. When a person ingests an animal with these traits they adopt these traits themselves.
This stork, the kind one, seems to contradict the Rambam’s theory, since it has a positive nature in sharing its food with others, and even so it is listed with the impure and non kosher birds.
Apart from that we must ask on the whole approach of the Rambam. How can we understand the idea of the attributes of an animal attaching themselves to someone who eats them? From the time of creation people have been eating the meat of animals and drinking their milk. Despite thousands of years of ingesting animals, we don’t find that human nature has adopted the traits or mentality of the animals that they eat. We don’t find any traces of animal nature in either the bodies or the souls of people.
Furthermore, it is explicit in the Talmud Yerushalmi (Avodah Zarah chapter 2, which is also brought by Tosefot on Avodah Zarah 26a s.v. akum): A child may nurse from a non Jewish woman or any kind of impure animal, and they may bring him milk from anywhere without being concerned about the prohibition of doing things that are disgusting.
If there was a concern that the nature of the animal can be passed on to one who eats from it, the Rabbis would certainly have been careful not to allow a child to nurse from a non kosher animal unless it was a matter of life and death. Look in Yoreh Deah at the end of siman 81 where he deals with this topic.
It is therefore difficult to know where the Rambam got this idea of animal nature entering people. Perhaps it came from the medical konwledge of his time, but even so it would have been impossible for him to bring this concept wihtout any basis or source from the Sages.
In answer to our first question about the stork being a contradiction to the Rambam’s theory, perhaps we can say that the fact that it shares its food doesn’t contradict its inherent cruel nature. For example we know that the raven is one of the cruelest birds, and is used as an example of the extremes of cruelty in the Talmud (Eruvin 22a) ‘he made himself cruel like a raven’. Even so the Sages have told us that the ravens love each other (Pesachim 112b). So too with mice, they invite each other to share their food with them (Yerushalmi Bava Metziah chapter 3 ;halacha 5), and even so they are called ‘wicked mice’ (ibid.). Given these examples, it is possible that the stork who shares her food does not provide a contradiction to the Rambam’s theory that her inherent nature is cruel and bad.
We still have to explain the meaning of that Yerushalmi. Why should they call mice wicked because they invite their friends to share their food? That seems like a good trait not a negative one.
But the truth is that their words are correct. The Yerushalmi is precise in its language when it says ‘when they see lots of food’ – that is when they invite others to share with them. This implies that when they only find a small amount of food, and there won’t be enough for the others, in such a case they don’t invite any other mice to share with them. From here we see that the fact that they do invite others sometimes is not because of their good traits, but rather because of their wickedness, that they wish to destroy and ruin all of the food that they find. If they were really interested in being good they would invite their friends even when there was not enough food, but they don’t, because they are concerned that if they share a small amount they may not get enough for themselves.
Regarding the original statement that the stork is called chadisa because she shares her food with others, perhaps we can also give another reason for that name.
Based on the zoology books who call this bird ‘storch’ or ‘aist’, and it is described as having a long beak and long legs. During the winter it leaves its nest and flies south to Africa or India. As spring arrives it returns to the same nest that it left several months previously (this is what Yeremiahu hints at when he says “Even the stork in the heavens knows the appointed time” (8; 7)). They are also birds that mate for life, and they never cheat on their partners. Therefore perhaps we can say that it is called chasida because of the way that it remains faithful to the same partner for its entire life, and the word chasida here means faithful and honest. We find this meaning in the verse in Mishlei (31; 26) “the Torah of chesed is on her tongue” – which means Torah of faith. Similarly in Tehillim “He will build a world of chesed”, which, based on the explanation of the Talmud (Sanhedrin 58; 2) means the honesty of family relationships (specifically that Adam could not marry his own daughter because otherwise Cain would have had nobody to marry).

No comments: