Cud it Out

Rabbi Wagensberg
Parshas Shemini
Cud it Out

One of the topics in this week's parshah discusses the signs of a kosher animal. There are two signs that make an animal kosher: split hoofs and chewing of the cud (Lv. 11:2-3). The verses go on to specify four animals that are not kosher because they only have one sign of kashrus. They are the camel, hyrax, and hare that chew their cud but do not have split hooves (Lv. 11:4-6). Then there is the pig that has split hooves but does not chew its cud (Lv. 11:7).

Obviously, if an animal has neither sign, it is not kosher. However, there is another reason why these four animals were singled out.

The Midrash (Vayikra Rabba, 13:5) says that these four animals represent the four exiles. The camel corresponds to the Babylonian exile, the hare parallels the Greek exile, the hyrax links with the Median exile, and the pig is connected to the Roman exile.

Today, we live in the tail end of the Roman exile. Since this exile is represented by the pig, we will be able to understand the nature of this exile by examining the pig. By probing the essence of the pig, we will also become aware of what it is that we need to do in order to be redeemed from this exile.

Let us begin with the following Talmudic passage. The Gemara (Yoma, chap.1, "Shivas Yamim", pg. 9a) quotes Rebbi Yochanan and Rebbi Elazar who say that the earlier generations of Jews whose sins were revealed, knew when their exile was going to end. However, the latter generations of Jews whose sins are not revealed, do not know when the exile is going to end.

Rashi explains that since the earlier generations of Jews living during the First Temple era recognized and admitted that they sinned, they were informed openly when their exile was going to end. However, since the latter generations of Jews living during the Second Temple era did not admit to their crimes, but rather covered them over, they were not informed when their exile was going to end.

Rebbi Yochanan concludes his remarks by saying, "Better are the fingernails of the earlier generations, than the stomachs of the latter generations." What did Rebbi Yochanan mean with this riddle?

The GR"A (Peninim M'shulchan HaGR"A, parshas Shemini) explains Rebbi Yochanan's intention in the following way. Of the four non-kosher animals specified in the Torah, there is a difference between the first three animals and the last one. The first three (camel, hyrax, and hare) have their sign of impurity on the outside, because their hooves are closed. However, the pig has its sign of impurity on the inside, because it does not chew its cud.

Therefore, the previous generations who acknowledged their sins and admitted to them openly, are compared to the first three animals that carry their sign of impurity in the open. However, the latter generations who try to hide their sins, are compared to the pig that carries its sign of impurity hidden on the inside. This is the meaning behind Rebbi Yochanan's riddle. The "nails" of the earlier generations represent the sign of impurity found on the "hoof." The "stomachs" of the later generations represent the sign of impurity found on the inside by not chewing its "cud." Therefore, the "nails" or "closed hooves" of the earlier generations were better that the "stomachs" or "lack of cud chewing" of the latter generations.

It's always bad to sin; however, it's much worse to deny it by rationalizing and justifying it. If a person admits to the truth, at least he is not faking. Moreover, if a person recognizes that he sinned, he stands a chance at repenting one day thereby mending his ways. However, if a person refuses to recognize his own shortcomings, he is a faker. He wishes to fool the people around him, but worse than that, he fools himself, never affording himself the opportunity to repent because, in his mind, he has done nothing wrong.

Rome is Edom and Edom is Eisav, which means that Eisav is also compared to the pig because on the outside he tried to present himself as a righteous person while he held on to impurity on the inside. Eisav tried to come across as one who was stringent with halacha by asking his father how to tithe salt and straw (which does not need to be tithed; Gn. 25:27, Bereishis Rabba, 63:15), and at the same time he was guilty of violating women.

When Ya'akov wrestled with Eisav's arch angel, (Gn. 32:25), Rav Shmuel bar Nachmeini says that the angel appeared to Ya'akov looking like an idolater. However, Rav Shmuel bar Acha, before Rav Papa, quoting Rava bar Ulah says that he appeared to Ya'akov looking like a Torah scholar (Chulin, chap. 7, "Gid Hanasheh", pg.91a).

The Shvilei Pinchas explains that Eisav's arch angel is the Yetzer Hara. These two appearances of his represent the two ways in which he tries to cause us to stumble. When the angel appeared as an idolater, it represented the Yetzer Hara who tries to get us to sin when we recognize that it is a sin. However, when the angel appeared as the Torah scholar, it represented the Yetzer Hara that tries to get us to sin by disguising the sin as a mitzvah. The latter is much harder to deal with because we don't even know if what we are doing is right or wrong, and we may never come to repent for such actions because we are convinced that we have acted righteously.

Only Ya'akov can reveal the falsity of Eisav because Ya'akov represents emes (truth; Mic. 7:20). This is why he was named Ya'akov after grabbing Eisav's "eikev" (heel; Gn. 25:26). Ya'akov was sending a message to his descendants about the problem with Eisav. That message was to grab him by the "heel," or shall I say, grab him by the "hoof." Then examine him thoroughly because we will find that he only appears to be kosher on the outside, but on the inside he is as unclean as can be.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that the way to combat this trickiness of Eisav is to increase our study of Torah (Kedushin, chap. 1, "Ha-isha niknis", pg. 30b). This is because the Yetzer Hara of Eisav is falsehood and darkness. Just like we find it difficult to see in the dark, we find it difficult to see when we are lied to. Therefore, we must turn on the "light" which will dispel the darkness and clarify what is right and what is wrong. That light is he light of the Torah (Pro. 6:23).

This is why it says that when the voice of Ya'akov is heard, the hands of Eisav will be weakened (Bereishis Rabba, parshas Toldos, 65:20, based on Gn. 27:22). The voice of Ya'akov is Torah study. When that light is turned on, the "hands or hooves" of Eisav will not be able to trick us.

This is why the Zohar (Zohar Chadash, parshas Bereishis, pg. 12b) says that the final redemption will come about in the merit of Torah study. It is because we are living at the End of Days, still under the Roman exile who represents falsity, which rationalizes sin in the name of the law. This is the platform upon which Edom operates. Only the light of Torah can guide us to discern between right and wrong. When we gain that clarity and go in the correct path, then the Moshiach will come.

Based on this, my suggestion would be to increase our Torah study a little bit. Here is one way of achieving this. Right after we finish our Torah session, let us push ourselves to learn for just one more minute. It may be a painful minute, but this sacrifice for Torah will invite additional light into our lives, helping us differentiate between wrong and right.

So, may we, the last generation, be blessed to stand up to the pitfalls of this fourth tricky and "swiny" exile, by increasing the light, in order to see things for what they really are, and thus witness the slaughtering of the Yetzer Hara (Succah, chap. 5, "Hachalil", pg. 52a) speedily in our days.