Sh'mini - Lev 9:1 - 11:47

Vayikra/Leviticus 11:7   and the pig ... it does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you.


Chapter eleven of the book of Vayikra contains the definitive list of the animals, fish, birds and insects that may or may not be eaten. It also covers contact with the carcass of any of the above, how and when one becomes ritually impure and how subsequently to regain a state of ritual purity. Richard Elliott Friedman starts our discussion by observing that the whole chapter relates to matters of ritual purity, not to health or hygiene, neither to objects of worship, nor to ethics. The word is a ritual word, not an ethical word.

Having established the two characteristics that a 'clean' and therefore edible animal has, "any animal that has true hoofs, with clefts through the hoofs, and that chews the cud -- such you may eat" (Vayikra 11:3, JPS), verses 4-7 then list four particular animals - the camel, the coney, hyrax or rock badger, the hare and the pig - that display only one of the two characteristics and are therefore ritually unclean. As Who Is ...

Abraham Ibn Ezra: (1089-1167 CE), born in Tudela, Spain; died in the South of France after wandering all around the shores of the Mediterranean and England; a philosopher, astronomer, doctor, poet and linguist; wrote a Hebrew grammar and a commentary on the Bible
Ibn Ezra and Who Is ...

Ramban: Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman of Gerona or Nachmanides (1194-1270 CE), Spanish rabbi, author and physician; defended Judaism in the Christian debates in Barcelona before making aliyah
Nachmanides both point out, "these four animals are all specifically mentioned because they possess one (but not both) of the two characteristics of a kosher animal." Baruch Levine reports that "the pig or swine was widely domesticated in ancient Canaan and even raised for food. No distinction is made here between the wild and domesticated species of the swine. It is the only domesticated animal used as food in biblical times that has a truly split hoof but does not chew its cud."

While the anthropologist Mary Douglas proposes that this is a matter of defined class or category: split-hoofed, cud-chewing animals are "the model of the proper kind of food for a pastoralist"1, Friedman disagrees. Citing the summary verses from the end of the chapter - "These are the instructions concerning animals, birds, all living creatures that move in water, and all creatures that swarm on earth, for distinguishing between the unclean and the clean" (vv. 46-47, JPS) - he makes the argument that these two criteria are the means of distinguishing between human beings and animals that may be eaten. He suggests that the two markers - cloven hooves, cud-chewing - make permissible food animals twice-distinguished from humans, while those with only a single distinction (one or the other) have to be explicitly forbidden.

Noting that in all four instances, the Torah lists the 'clean' quality that each animal possesses first - here, "although it has true hoofs, with the hoofs cleft through, it does not chew the cud" (v. 7, JPS) - the Sages cite the Psalmist - "The words of the L-RD are pure words, silver purged in an earthen crucible, refined sevenfold" (Psalm 12:7, JPS) - and suggest that the words are explicitly arranged in this way because The Name ...

HaShem: literally, Hebrew for 'The Name' - an allusion used to avoid pronouncing the Tetragrammaton, the so-called 'ineffable' name of G–d
HaShem would not want to speak badly even of an unclean animal. It is kinder to say something good first ( What Is ...

Pesikta Rabbati: A collection of midrashic discourses for special Shabbats and festival days compiled and organised during the ninth century (around 845 CE) although reaching back to biblical times; probaby called "Rabbati" - the larger - to distinguish it from the earlier Pesikta de Rab Kahana; the two share some common material, but the later collection has a much wider range of readings and homilies
Pesikta Rabbati 14:5). The Kli Yakar goes a step further and writes, "The Torah teaches us that the positive sign actually aggravates their uncleanness, as our Sages state in regard to Esau, whom they compare to a pig stretching out its paws as if to claim that it is kosher, when inside lie rottenness and deceit. This is to teach us that a hypocrite is worse than an undisguised sinner ... the cloven hoof of the pig becomes a sign of uncleanness because it misleads one to think the animal is kosher."2 This sets up the idea that these four animals, typified by the pig, pretend to be kosher; that at first appearance, they have a kosher quality - chewing the cud or a cloven hoof - that can deceive someone who either doesn't know or doesn't look carefully enough into thinking that they are ritually clean. The Sages saw the pig deliberately deceiving people by explicitly offering its kosher credential first.

Yeshua warned about deceit stopping people from entering the kingdom of heaven or having a relationship with G-d. In the Parable of the Sower, He told the people that "other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain" (Mark 4:7, ESV). When the disciples later asked Him to explain the parable to them, He said, "And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful" (vv. 18-19, ESV). Yeshua describes "riches and desires for other things" as deceitful. How so? Because riches and 'things' are transitory; they are material things of this world. They give a false comfort and security. Like the successful farmer who tore down his old barns and built new ones to house his great wealth of crops, saying to himself, "Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry" (Luke 12:19, ESV), riches will stop us being open to G-d. They will become an idol.

Sin comes in many shapes and sizes. Sometimes it comes coated with candy or chocolate; at other times it masquerades as necessity or dresses like a pauper, but underneath it is still sin. We are warned about its deceitfulness: "Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living G-d. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin" (Hebrews 3:12-13, ESV). When once taken in, familiarity with the disguise makes sin seem like an old friend, a comfortable ally. Our once firm belief in G-d is weakened so that we fall away from Him and slip further into sin or legalism. Rav Sha'ul recognises this when he says, "For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me" (Romans 7:11, ESV), so that eventually, "He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, 'Is there not a lie in my right hand?'" (Isaiah 44:20, ESV).

How then should we respond to people, situations and opportunities with whom or which we are unfamiliar? Does our fear of sin compel us to reject any overture that we do not completely understand or that does not come from an unimpeachable source? Must we refuse any approach or opening that seems interesting or inviting lest it should be a thin veneer covering sin that seeks to gain a foothold in our lives? Would that not be judgmental, inviting the opposite sin of a critical spirit - always suspecting the worst? But how do we protect ourselves from the deceit of sin?

Yeshua gives us the answer to these questions. He starts with, "Don't judge, so that you won't be judged. For the way you judge others is how you will be judged - the measure with which you measure out will be used to measure to you" (Matthew 7:1-2, CJB). This seems quite clear: we are not to judge others, to make judgements about their motives, ambitions, situations. The Cherokee tribe of Native Americans are given as the original source for the saying, "Don't judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes", which while being good advice can still end up crossing the line of forming a judgement, which we are not allowed to do. We don't know how other people are feeling, what makes them present or react in a certain way, or the pressure under which they may be operating. We need to allow people grace and respond to them in both a measured and open way. Once we judge someone, we have categorised them and will always see them through a certain lens, probably looking down on them in one or more ways.

However, Yeshua then goes on to warn about false prophets: "You will recognize them by their fruit. Can people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every healthy tree produces good fruit, but a poor tree produces bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, or a poor tree good fruit. Any tree that does not produce good fruit is cut down and thrown in the fire! So you will recognize them by their fruit" (Matthew 7:16-20, CJB). We are not to judge, we are to be fruit inspectors. Quiet observation will allow us to assess someone's life and decide how much contact we are comfortable for ourselves and our family to have with them. You wouldn't allow someone who was always losing their temper and whose children always looked somewhat ragged and beaten up to look after your own children, but you might be comfortable spending some time with them to help them address their issues. Many people can maintain a good front or outward appearance in the short term, but longer term and informal contact reveals the 'normal' person underneath the mask.

We are, nevertheless, to flee from sin; from environments of sin, from temptation to sin. Rav Sha'ul tells us to "flee from immorality" (1 Corinthians 6:18) and "flee from idolatry" (10:14), not forgetting the love of money! He explains, "flee from these things, you man of G-d; and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness" (1 Timothy 6:11, NASB). Here we can see both the positive and negative: we flee from sin and things that would make us unclean, but we pursue righteousness and other godly characteristics that bring us closer to G-d. This is not running away but making a clear choice about what we do, where we go and how we spend our time. We need to call a spade a spade - don't be deceived by the pig: it is unclean despite its initial appearance of cleanliness.

1. - Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger : An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo, Routledge Classics 2002

2. - The Kli Yakar is a commentary to the Torah which highlights the homiletic or d'rash, written by Shlomo Ephraim of Luntshitz (1550-1619), a student of the Maharshal.

Further Study: Matthew 12:33-37; Ephesians 4:17-24; 2 Peter 2:18-22

Application: Have you been taken in by something that looked alright on the surface but later proved to be some form of sin? It's all too easy and you're certainly not the first. Confess the sin and get forgiven, then resolve not to go there again and to be more vigilant in future!

© Jonathan Allen, 2016



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