Tuesday, March 25, 2008

DVAR TORAH S3: Tzav/Purim (So long, and thanks for all the fish)

Okay, this is late, relatively short and I have an admission, not much about purim, but I have a whole bunch of Purim Divrei Torah archived up that you can read if you search the blog.

In this past week's Torah Portion I noticed something interesting in Leviticus 7:26. According to the old JPS translation: "And ye shall eat no manner of blood, whether it be of fowl or of beast, in any of your dwellings." I happened to have my Torat Chayim with me during services this week and had the sudden revelation that this may be another reason we consider birds fleishig. The blood of the bird is treated just like that of mammals: completely forbidden! As I had hoped, Rashi commented on this verse and said that it specifically excludes fish and kosher insects. As I feared commentary on the commentary said that the reason is that fish and insects have no blood (you win this one, Max. see Kritot 21a). I know this to not be the fact, however, and fish and insects do indeed have blood. I don't think that changes anything. On the totem pole of life, in my opinion Torah places fish below plant-life. It says in Parashat Noach that "you may eat of the beast of the ground, the birds of the sky, the goodness of the earth (ie: flora) and the fish of the sea". I think this is a pecking order.

There is a bit of Purim here, as fish, Dagim (Pisces in Greek) is the Mazal of the Month(s) of Adar and has come to symbolize the holiday of Purim. I finally located the book in which I learned the astrological signs relating to the Hebrew calendar, "Jewish Days" by Francine Klagsbrun:

[Pisces] is an appropriate sign for a month known for fun and frivolty, because as the rabbis said, in joyous ways Israel can be compared to a fish. How so? Just as the evil eye has no power over a fish in water, the evil eye has no power over the people of Israel. Moreover, although fish live in water, when a drop falls from above they catch it thirstily as if they had never tasted water before. So it is with the people of Israel. Although they grow up immersed in the waters of the Torah, when they hear a new Torah lesson they drink it in as if they had never heard the Torah expounded. (93)

Plus fish are inherently funny. Speaking of Kashrut, stay tuned for next week, Shmini which is full of Kashrut...


Yaakov Kirschen said...

Really interesting, but the "pecking order" of "the beast of the ground, the birds of the sky, the goodness of the earth (ie: flora) and the fish of the sea" makes more sense if seen from human technologies in getting food. hunting (beasts then birds), agriculture, and finally fishing.
Dry Bones
Israel's Political Comic Strip Since 1973

Matt said...

This is possible. I'm not such an expert on horticultural history or on hunting, but I feel that birds have always been the toughest prey. Fish seem to be comparatively easier, well, like fish in a barrel.

But as I learned once again the hard way today in Parshanut class, there are many ways to Midrash that contradict one another. I think there needs to be a reason that fish is not adjacent to the other animals and is only mentioned after the plants. This is not mentioned in the order in which they were created in Chapter 1 of Bereishit. There are constant red flags raised in textual study; nothing is arbitrary and the fun is trying to figure out why.

BTW, keep up the great work on Dry Bones! We need good political commentary in comic form nowadays!

Abby said...

I took an interesting class on Vayikra last year using Nechama Leibowitz's methods. If you don't have her commentaries, I highly recommend them.

I learned that the reason we can't eat blood is that it has the life-force of the animal, and that belongs only to God. That's why we pour the blood out on the altar.

Fish and insects don't have blood in sufficient quantities to make a nice splash on the altar! (Okay, I didn't learn that in class--it's my own conclusion.) Therefore, we can eat their blood. Yay.