By Elli Schwarcz – Of Animals and Exiles – Parashat Shemini 5782


This week’s Parasha includes laws of kosher- in particular, which animals, birds and fish may and may not be eaten.

As we know, the Torah gives two signs with which a kosher land animal is identified: it must have split hooves and chew its cud. An animal without both characteristics, even if it has one, is prohibited. Interestingly, the Torah lists four animals that each have just one sign, and specifically warns that they must not be eaten:

But this you must not eat… the camel– because it chews its cud but does not have split hooves…
And the hyrax, because it chews its cud but does not have split hooves…
And the hare, because it chews its cud but does not have split hooves…
And the pigbecause it has split hooves… but does not chew its cud

-Shemini, 11:4-7

These details seem problematic. Why would the Torah bother to name these animals after already telling us the rules of what makes an animal kosher? Surely we would know on our own, after examining these animals, that they don’t have both of the signs- and so are obviously not kosher!

The Talmud teaches (see Gemara Chullin 59) that by highlighting these specific animals, the Torah is actually attesting that these are the only animals that have exactly one sign– all other non-kosher animals have neither of the signs.

This statement has become famous as a proof to the Divine origin of the Torah; only One who knows all of the exact properties of every single existing species could make so bold a statement that there are no other such animals*. To this day scientists and zoologists are still discovering more and more new species- and if even one more creature with exactly one kosher sign would ever be discovered, the divinity of the Torah would automatically be disproven; any mistake would show that the Torah could not have been written by God. This guarantee that a fifth such animal will never be found is a great proof indeed!

In addition to the ‘testimonial’ inherent in this passage, our sages also view this list of exceptional animals- the camel, the hare, the hyrax and the pig- as an allusion to a deep and far-reaching topic: the exiles that we have experienced as a people.  To be exact, each of the animals represents a different nation under whose rule we have suffered over the last 2000 years.

For now, let’s skip how every individual symbolism fits, and instead focus on the basic imagery. (Comments in parentheses are our own.)

‘The camel’: this refers to Babel (who destroyed the first Beit Hamikdash).
‘The hare’: this refers to Ancient Greece (who defiled the second Beit Hamikdash and punished the practice of Judaism with death).
‘The hyrax’: this refers to (the exile in) Madai.
‘The pig’: this refers to Edom (Rome, who destroyed the second Beit Hamikdash. We still live in the Edom Exile, which has manifested into Europe and the Unites States.)

There’s another detail about these worth noting. Our Rabbis point out that the Torah teaches the laws of the camel, hare and hyrax within one verse- and writes of the pig in a separate verse. They take this division to be indicative of a difference between the pig and the other animals:

Moshe put three in one verse and the other (the pig) in a second verse. And why? …Rabbi Yohanan says this is because the (exile of) Edom is equal (in difficulty) to all the other (exiles) combined.

The Midrash goes on to explain the pig reference. The pig, we know, is the only animal that has split hooves but doesn’t chew its cud. As such, it can be misleading; when one first encounters the pig, he may think that it is kosher. Only further examination, showing that it does not chew its cud, indicates that it is not really kosher…

Why is it (Edom) compared to the pig? Just as a pig at the time it wallows [in the mud] sticks out its front legs and says ‘Look- I am pure!’, so, too, the kingdom of Edom…

Edom, the Midrash explains further, shows itself as a champion of peace and justice. In reality, though, this nation is itself dishonest!
-In other words, the same actions which Edom takes to promote its own supposed good qualities, are in truth exactly the opposite of those values– pretending to be honest is an act of dishonesty!

Being that Edom is referred to as a pig only because of this specific trait- dishonesty or deceptiveness- we can understand that this trait is not just a flaw, but rather a defining characteristic of its people. And a nation’s common characteristic, a trait embedded within its spiritual DNA, can only come from its progenitor- in this case, Eisav. He must have been a deceptive person- and this must have been a characteristic that defined his very being. As it turns out, we’ve seen this before …

And Yitzchak loved Eisav, because he was an expert hunter…
-Toldot, 25:28
‘an expert hunter‘: (This refers to the art of ‘trapping’ and deceiving Yitzhak…)

He (Eisav) would fool Yitzhak

– Rashi, ibid.
-So Eisav portrayed himself to Yitzhak as a righteous person, yet was in fact wicked.** 
After Yaakov disguised himself as Eisav and received Yitzchak’s blessings, he went to Padan Aram. Yaakov succeeded at retaining his trademark honesty despite his father-in-law Lavan’s negative influence, and began to build a nation. The large family eventually left Lavan, and Yaakov prepared to meet Eisav after 22 years of estrangement. One night while out alone, Yaakov was confronted by the Angel of Edom, who attempted to kill him and to destroy him spiritually. And how is this amazing battle described?

‘…and a man wrestled with him until dawn.’
-Vayishlah, 32:25

-Even the angel’s act of war, wrestling, resembled an act of love, in its similarity to a hugEdom fights Yisrael while pretending to be peaceful. The next day, after Yaakov’s victory over the angel, Eisav himself came with 400 generals in order to kill him. Upon seeing Yaakov in person, though, Eisav ran up to him, hugged and kissed him. While Eisav may have truly had pity on Yaakov and completely changed his attitude towards him upon seeing him, our sages teach that something else was happening here:

When the Torah says that Eisav kissed Yaakov (vayishakeihu), the word ‘vayishakeihu‘ has dots on top of itThe Midrash says that is to hint that Eisav’s kiss was not whole-hearted. In fact, he really wanted to bite Yaakov- but Yaakov’s neck miraculously turned to stone… and so Eisav kissed him instead.

-Again, Eisav fights Yisrael with trickery. He pretends to be a trusted friend, but his very act of friendship is in fact an act of war. The dishonesty that Edom uses in its battle with B’nei Israel runs deep: it pretends to want friendship, but really seeks to destroy. Many Torah leaders point out that today we face a challenge that our nation has never faced: the test of assimilation. While we were already tempted (at least in prosperous times) to integrate into the culture of our host nations during this exile for many years now, never have we been so welcomed to join the ‘melting pot’ as we are today. The unique struggle and challenge of this exile sees us fighting on two fronts- running from Eisav’s murderous intentions, and fending off his friendly advances.

*To be exact, everything exists as a result of the Torah: ‘He looked in the Torah and created the Universe.’ –Zohar. Every animal, therefore, is actually the product of being mentioned or hinted at within the Torah. As such, the exactitude of the Torah’s ‘outlook’ on Creation is a direct result of the Torah, not a mere knowledge that the Torah has.

**Shockingly, not only did Eisav lead a deceptive life, he actually characterized his brother Yaakov as being the dishonest one. For example, in his anger at losing the blessings to Yaakov, rather than admitting that Yaakov had been the rightful firstborn all along, Eisav made a stunning exclamation:
‘Is this why he is called Yaakov, because he tricked me (‘Yaakveni’) twice?!’
-Such is the depth of true deception. At its worst, not only is evil depicted as good, but good is blamed for being evil. It should be noted that Christianity, popularized and adapted by the Roman Empire and thus Edom, blames the Jewish Nation for killing its religion’s founder. Centuries later, European Christians- themselves guilty of murdering and torturing hundreds of thousands of Jews- would spread blood libels against the Jews. Even today, much of Europe- and even, to an extent, the Unites States’ current leadership- falsely paints Israel as an aggressor and a racist country, when it is in fact the victim.

Have a great Shabbat!

Elli Schwarcz is an alumnus of the Toras Moshe, Ner Israel, and Carteret Yeshivos, and has been involved in Jewish outreach for almost 15 years. He is a Hebrew School and English Language Arts teacher, and has a Master’s Degree in Counseling from Johns Hopkins University. Of all his pursuits, Elli most enjoys teaching high-level Jewish thought and Talmud to teenage boys, exposing them to the beauty and wisdom of their heritage while highlighting their own ability to engage in advanced Torah learning. Elli lives in Lakewood, New Jersey, with his wife and children.


Leave a Reply