Parashas Shemini

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Would you Want  to Eat a Bug?

Taste of Talmud

After outlining the laws of Sh’ratzim, the Torah says, “do not make your souls impure, because I am Hashem who brought you out of Egypt to be your G-d, and you should be holy because I am Holy” (Vayikra 11:45). In Tractate Bava Metzia 61b Rabbi Yishmael taught an amazing thing Hashem is telling us, “even if I would have ‘brought you out of Egypt’ only to refrain from eating insects, it would have been sufficient! Rabbi Chanina asked, “It does not say this  regarding the Mitzvah of Ribbis or Tzitzis, does this mean that the reward for this Mitzvah is greater than the reward for other Mitzvos such as  Ribbis or Tzitzis?”  Ravina answered him by saying, “Even though the reward is not greater, the prohibition against eating insects is singled out because eating them is so repulsive”.  We could still ask why this prohibited food, which most people do not eat anyways, singled out?  The Ben Yehoyada, a work on Aggada by, Rav Yosef Chaim of Baghdad, 1833-1909, answers this question with another question.  Eliyahu Hanavi asked Rabbi N’horai, if we are not allowed to consume insects, why did G-d create them?  He answered that insects serve as a defense for the people of the world.  When people sin there is an accusation against them:  “there is no positive benefit from these people, so why should they remain in this world?”  It is then that insects come to their defense. They say, we too are creations with limited benefit in this world, yet G-d keeps us alive! So too should these people remain alive. However, this defense only works as long as the insects are not benefitting the world by being eaten! So this Mitzvah is unique in that it affords us protection that other Mitzvos do not!

Taste of Halacha

The Ben Ish Chai a Halachik work written by, Rav Yosef Chaim of Baghdad, 1833-1909, writing on Parashas Naso, notes that the Torah issued numerous warnings against the prohibition of Sh’ratzim – eating insects.  He writes that a person who eats a Sheretz Ha’mayim (forbidden aquatic creatures) is liable to four sets of Malkos (lashes) for each creature, whereas one who eats a Sheretz Ha’aretz (an insect that lives on the ground) is liable to five sets of Malkos. Finally, he notes, one who eats a Sheretz Ha’of (a flying insect) is liable to six sets of Malkos for every insect eaten. The Ben Ish Chai also emphasizes that consuming these forbidden creatures contaminates the soul, as the Torah warns in issuing this prohibition, “Ve’nitmaisem Bam” (“you will be defiled through them”, Vayikra 11:43).There is a dispute among the authorities in defining the category of Sheretz Ha’aretz with respect to this prohibition. The Ben Ish Chai rules that if an insect grows in a fruit or vegetable while the fruit or vegetable is still attached to the ground, then it is forbidden even if it has no room to crawl. This is in contrast to the view of the Shulchan Aruch, who says that the prohibition of Sheretz Ha’aretz applies only to creatures that have crawled, as indicated in the Torah’s formulation of this law – “Sheretz Ha’shoretz” (“insects that swarm”, Vayikra 11:42). If the insect grows in a small, enclosed area inside a fruit or vegetable, such that it does not have the ability to move, then, according to the Shulchan Aruch, it does not fall under the Torah prohibition of Sh’ratzim. This is also the ruling of Chacham Ovadia Yosef, who noted that there are certain beans in which insects occasionally grow while the bean is still attached to the ground, but the insects have no room to move. These beans would not have to be checked, because these creatures do not fall under the Torah prohibition of Sh’ratzim.  From: “A Daily Halacha”, by: Rabbi Eli Mansour.

Taste of Parasha

Rabbi Chaim Vital (1543-1620) asks, “Why does the Torah give two reasons for the prohibition of not eating insects?  First it says do not eat  insects that are not kosher because they will make you impure.  Then it says, “because I am Hashem who lifted you out of Egypt”.  Rabbi Chaim Vital answers that the second reason is an explanation of the first. In truth it is quite difficult to understand how eating something physical could have an effect on something spiritual.  Where do we find that these two realms are so intertwined?  To this the Torah answers that when G-d saved us from Egypt he specifically brought us to a holy land. He did not just give us the land of Egypt because, as it says in the Torah, Egypt was a place of immoral behavior and impurity.  The Torah is telling us that just as G-d did not rest his presence in theland of Egypt because the land was impure so too by eating not kosher food this has a detrimental effect on our souls and therefore we should not make our bodies impure with not kosher foods.  We learn from here that Hashem created the world in a way that the physical world has to be pure and elevated in order to be worthy of the divine presence.

About tasteofyeshiva

RABBI YAIR FRIEDMAN teaches at The Torah School of Greater Washington, and Yeshiva L' Baalei Batim. He is the owner and director of Camp Gevaldig LLC.
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