NOACH (Genesis, 6:9-11:32) — “A Pig by Any Other Name…”

A Shul recently brought me a Torah scroll to repair.  In addition to adding ink to chipped letters, the congregation requested a computer scan of the Torah.  This inspection led to the discovery of a few misspelled words that had to be corrected.  The misspellings were minor errors, extra letters that didn’t change the meaning or pronunciation of the words, (An approximate example in English would be “colour”, instead of “color”).  However, the Torah was invalid for use until the mistakes were fixed.  Since each and every letter in the Torah is essential, a single extra letter or missing letter is an error that must be immediately repaired.

This rule creates a question in this week’s Torah reading.  The Torah, which is extremely concise, never uses a superfluous phrase, word, or letter.  Yet, in the following verse, the Torah seems to deliberately use too many words:

The clean animals and the animals that were not clean . . . came . . . to the Ark. (Genesis, 7:8)

A brief Hebrew lesson:  The Hebrew word for clean, in the context of Kosher animals, is ‘Tahor’, or ‘Tehorah’.  The Hebrew word for unclean, or non-Kosher, is ‘Tamei’, or ‘Temeiah’.  What the Torah actually says in the above verse is “the ‘Tehorah’ animals, and the animals that were not ‘Tehorah’ . . . came . . . to the Ark.

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, quoted in the Talmud, is bothered by this unusually wordy phrase utilized by the Torah.  In Leviticus, Kosher animals are referred to as ‘Tehorah’, while non-Kosher animals are called ‘Temeiah’.  Why doesn’t the Torah simply say “the Tehorah animals and the ‘Temeiah’ animals came to the Ark?  Why does the Torah refer to them as “animals that were not ‘Tehorah’”?

(To simplify the question, without the Hebrew lesson, there are two types of laundry — clean laundry and dirty laundry.  Would you reclassify these two categories as clean laundry and laundry that is not clean?! )

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi answers with a very important ethical lesson.  “Let a person never allow a coarse word come out of his mouth, as we see that an additional eight letters were written in the Torah rather than using coarse language.” (Pesachim, 3a)

After the Flood, humans were, for the first time, permitted to eat meat.  Kosher laws, which only apply to Jews, were not relevant to Noah’s diet. Why are pigs and rabbits and horses called “the animal which isn’t ‘Tehorah’, clean, rather than being simply called ‘Temeiah’, dirty?  Because by calling them dirty, the Torah would not be speaking respectfully about Noah’s food.  The Torah, which is so careful about every word and letter, went out of its way to use a terminology that was more gentle and refined when describing something that people eat.  (In Leviticus, when telling us what NOT to eat, the Torah didn’t object to using the more negative description of ‘Temeiah’.)

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How careful are we with the language that we use?  Do we make sure that the expressions we use reflect the respect that we are required to show to every person?  Do we make sure that we scrupulously avoid saying anything that could cause distress or discomfort to another human being?  (It goes without saying, of course, that profanity is strictly forbidden.)

The Torah doesn’t waste words.  There is too much wisdom that can be derived from every word to say things without reason.  Let us make sure that our words are used to build, encourage, and inspire.  Any other use of our words would be simply . . .  Treif!

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.

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 Nimro-bama” (2009) 

…Society was uncomfortable with Abram’s “Inconvenient Truths.”  He said things that challenged their beliefs.  He contradicted Nimrod’s plans of absolute sovereignty.  He dared to accuse the “Great Leader” of being, well, merely mortal.  Therefore, he had to be silenced.

Last November, the people of America  displayed the “Audacity of Hope” and voted for “Change.”  As the bumper stickers ask, “How’s that ‘Hopesy-Changey’ workin’ out for you?” … 

Read more.

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“Murdering the Murderer?” (2008) 

“Two wrongs don’t make a right!  If it is wrong to kill, it is wrong to kill!  When we execute murderers we become no better than they are!”

So goes the argument of the anti-capital punishment crowd.  When we kill a killer we become killers ourselves.

There seems to be a certain amount of merit to that argument, except for one little detail.  G-d disagrees:

“He who spills the blood of man shall have his own blood spilled by man, for G-d made man in His own image.”  (Genesis, 9:6)

G-d made this statement to Noah and his children shortly after He wiped out almost every man, woman, and child from the face of the earth.  Although every human being is created in G-d’s image, G-d had no problem eliminating all but the eight members of the Noah Family.

Why not?…

Read more.

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“A Tale of Two Cities” (2007)

… G-d has limited patience with wicked people. Nineveh  was slated for destruction.  The prophet Jonah was sent to Nineveh  to warn them of their imminent doom.  They got the message.  They repented their evil ways and were spared.

As a result of their actions, the (belatedly) righteous citizens of Nineveh  serve as an annual Yom Kippur role model to teach us what we can accomplish by returning to G-d.

Now let us look at another Biblical city.  We will read in a few weeks about Eliezer’s journey to the city of Nachor…In Nachor he finds murderous, wicked people.  … “Laban, son of NACHOR”, (Genesis, 29:5) is one of the symbols of the enemies of Israel.  He is also identified with Balaam, who did everything in his power to curse and destroy Israel.

There you have it.  Two cities. Nineveh, which teaches us how to return to G-d and become better people, and Nachor, a city that teaches us treachery and unrepentant evil.

We, can, perhaps, see the roots of these cities’ differences in this week’s Torah Portion…

Read more.

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 “How to be an Orthodox Jewish Gentile” (2006)

Is it possible for a Gentile to practice Torah Judaism?  Isn’t that an oxymoron?  Not at all.  Actually, it is very much possible for a Gentile to practice Torah Judaism.  In fact, every member of the human race is obligated to do so.

We do not believe that every person is obligated to follow the 613 Commandments of the Torah.  There is nothing wrong with Gentiles eating pork chops or driving on the Sabbath.  They are, however, required by Torah Law to obey 7 key Commandments, known as the Seven Noahide Laws.  (“Noahide” = Children of Noah.)

What are they required to do?  Well, they could start off by disbanding the New Jersey Supreme Court!…

Read more.

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“No Pot of Gold…” (2005)

It’s beautiful; it’s a sign of ugliness. When you see it, you recite a prayer of thanks; when you see it, you’re not supposed to show it to anyone.  It is a sign of hope; it is a sign of frustration.  It is a sign of divine compassion; it is a sign of divine wrath.

Somewhere, over the rainbow, SomeOne is remembering a promise.  Somewhere, under the rainbow, someone has broken a promise…

Read more.

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 “Yerachmiel’s Ark” (2004) …

… As I lay on the grass in a not-very-rabbinic muddy suit contemplating my predicament, I started laughing.  Noah’s lion strikes again!…

Read more.

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 “Quoth the Raven . . .” (2003)

I hate ‘em!

My garbage pail gets knocked over by the wind, and before you know it, these big black, ugly birds are ripping open the trash bags, spreading the wealth all over my driveway!

Noah hated ‘em too…

Noah didn’t like the raven.  It was a cruel and selfish bird.  In fact, Noah didn’t mind endangering that miserable creature by sending it out of the Ark.  He didn’t understand what value there was in even allowing the raven back into the Ark.  He saw the raven as an unnecessary member of the animal kingdom. It was cruel to its own children.  It was inedible.  It could not be used as a sacrifice. AND, it was despicable…

Read more.

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 “You Can’t Climb a Grapevine” (2002)

… When Noah sobered up, he realized how his son and grandson had dishonored him, and cursed them. Noah blessed Shem and Japheth for their respect and sensitivity.

How did Noah, this great man, who is called “a man of righteousness,” descend so quickly to become “a man of the earth?” How did the savior of mankind so quickly find himself in a drunken stupor, subject to the scorn of his own son and grandson? …

Read more.

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 “Sweat the Big Stuff…and it’s ALL Big Stuff!” (2001)

… there is no such thing as “a little bit pregnant” …

Read more.

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 “A Pig by Any Other Name…” (2000)

… there are two types of laundry — clean laundry and dirty laundry. Would you reclassify these two categories as “clean laundry” and “laundry that isn’t clean?!” …

Read more.

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This is the weekly message at  TorahTalk.org. Copyright © 2000-2012 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain in  Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on November 2, 2000 at 10:03 am  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. I really don’t think that Tahor should be translated as “clean”. Clean, in modern English, connotates a physical cleanliness; one can become Tahor in a Mikveh that carries water-borne disease (Mikveh water should be physically clean, but that’s another story). Maybe “spiritually clean” would be better?


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