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Monday, March 28, 2011

#1 Tazria, Prenatal Influences

There are two similar but separate things that were said regarding the end of Shmini and the beginning of Tazria.  They are often erroneously commingled or interchanged.  It's not that big a deal, because it's not a matter of halacha, and also because neither can be found in any sefarim that the alleged sources printed.  But this is the version I've heard from responsible ba'alei mesorah, and which is also found in some sefarim, albeit always "mipi hashmu'ah."  More importantly, it's worth thinking about what they really mean, so at the end of the post I've added some points that deserve attention.


Both of these Divrei Torah are resonant with the story of the woman that came to the Rebbe and said, "Rebbe, I had a baby a month ago, and I want to know what I can do to make sure he will grow up to be a great tzadik."  The Rebbe answered, Rebbitzen, you are coming to me ten months late.

There are no guarantees in life, and certainly not when it comes to raising children.  But there are things that do make a difference.


The first discussion is from  Reb Akiva Eiger (as brought in Tallelei Oros and Iturei Torah):

The beginning of Parshas Tazria talks about childbirth.   The end of Parshas Shmini describes which species of animals we may eat (the Tahor) and which we may not eat (the Tamei).  The Torah sums up the parsha of kashrus with the passuk (11:47)
  לְהַבְדִּיל בֵּין הַטָּמֵא וּבֵין הַטָּהֹר וּבֵין הַחַיָּה הַנֶּאֱכֶלֶת וּבֵין הַחַיָּה אֲשֶׁר לֹא תֵאָכֵל
To separate the impure from the pure and between the living beings that may be eaten and the living beings that may not be eaten.

Why, in this passuk, does the order change.  In other words, the first phrase lists the non-kosher first- tamei/tahor, and the second phrase reverses that order- may be eaten/may not be eaten.  

To answer this question, Reb Akiva Eiger directs us to the Gemara in Yoma 82b.  The Mishna says that a pregnant woman that has a tremendous craving for a food may eat on Yom Kippur, because denying the craving might cause mortal harm.  The Gemara says that one Yom Kippur, two pregnant women smelled cooking food and were overwhelmed with a  need to eat immediately. The Sages suggested that somebody whisper in the ear of each woman a soft reminder that it was Yom Kippur. One woman calmed down and was able to complete the fast.  The other continued to insist that she desperately needed to eat the food she had smelled, and she was permitted to eat. The Gemara says that the first woman gave birth to the tzadik Rebbi Yochanan, while the second woman gave birth to the wicked Shabsai Otzar Peiri, a notoriously venal profiteer who harmed the community by manipulating the grain markets.
The Gemara says regarding Rebbi Yochanan the passuk in the beginning of Yirmiahu, 
בְּטֶרֶם אֶצָּרְךָ בַבֶּטֶן יְדַעְתִּיךָ, וּבְטֶרֶם תֵּצֵא מֵרֶחֶם הִקְדַּשְׁתִּיךָ
before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you came out, I made you holy.
Regarding Shabsai the gangster, the Gemara applies the passuk in Tehillim 58,
זֹרוּ רְשָׁעִים מֵרָחֶם;  תָּעוּ מִבֶּטֶן, דֹּבְרֵי כָזָב
The wicked go astray from the womb; they err from birth, speaking lies.

Reb Akiva Eiger says that this Gemara answers his question.  When the passuk says בֵין הַחַיָּה הַנֶּאֱכֶלֶת וּבֵין הַחַיָּה אֲשֶׁר לֹא תֵאָכֵל, the word "chaya," whose literal meaning here is  "living being," has a dual meaning, because the same word also can mean "a pregnant woman."  So "Hachaya hane'echeles" is a remez that a pregnant woman that insists on eating when it really isn't necessary, is like a t'mei'ah, in that what she eats has a negative effect on both her and her child.  A "Chaya asher lo sei'acheil" is a remez to a pregnant woman who calms down and controls herself and avoids eating treif, and thereby avoids damage to herself and to her child.  Thus, the order in the two halves of the passuk does not change.  In both parts, we start with the assur and end with the muttar.

Separately, the Vilner Gaon points out that when the Gemara brings the passuk from Tehillim about "The wicked go astray from the womb,", the Gemara is also referring to the passuk later in that chapter, that says 
 חֲמַת-לָמוֹ, כִּדְמוּת חֲמַת-נָחָשׁ;    כְּמוֹ-פֶתֶן חֵרֵשׁ, יַאְטֵם אָזְנוֹ.
ו  אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יִשְׁמַע, לְקוֹל מְלַחֲשִׁים

Their poison is like the poison of a serpent; they are like a deaf adder that stops its ear;

Which will not listen to the voice of charmers....
because the second woman, and her fetus, were not calmed by the whispered voices, just as some snakes are so dangerous that they cannot be controlled by charmers.  The words Lachash, whisper, and Melachashim, charmers, are the same.

The other story, which is all about the Vilner Gaon, is this:  He was asked, when he was six years old, what the connection is between Parshas Shmini and Parshas Tazria.  He pulled out the Gemara we mentioned above, in Yoma, and showed that what a woman gives birth to is very much influenced by what she eats during pregnancy.  So it is very understandable why the Torah follows the laws of Kashrus with the laws of Childbirth.  The last passuk in Shmini is לְהַבְדִּיל בֵּין הַטָּמֵא וּבֵין הַטָּהֹר, and the Torah is pointing out that eating those two kinds of food can influence what kind of child a woman will have.  Not only does the food a child eat affect him, as the Gaon says in YD 81:7, even the food he eats before he's born affects him.  (The main interest of the story is that the Gaon said it when he was six.  The idea itself was said long before then.  The Pardes Yosef in the beginning of the parsha brings it from Igeres HaRamban.)

Now the similarity and the difference between what Reb Akiva Eiger said and the story about the Gaon said should be clear.



I want to point out several things on this topic.

1. The Gemara is full of examples of early childhood influences on spiritual development.  There is the famous Yerushalmi that Reb Yehoshua's mother used to bring his crib into the Beis Medrash so he should soak up the cadence and kedusha of the words of Torah.  We know that Shimshon's parents were warned to avoid wine until their child was born, because of his nazirite holiness.  And recent studies seem to reiterate this idea:  Here is a paragraph from a paper I came across.

A recent study in Korea examined music’s influence on spatial learning ability in developing rats to show that Mozart Effect is strongest during neurogenesis, specifically in the hippocampus where spatial reasoning is most active.  Their procedure was similar to that of CNLM’s spatial task study, however, their focus was on prenatal music exposure, rather than exposure after birth.  Impregnated female rats were randomly divided into three groups; Noise-applied Group, Music-applied Group, and a control group, Undisturbed Group which was left in silence.
Twenty-one days after the rats gave birth, the pups were subjected to a spatial learning ability test which involved the pups finding water in a radial arm maze.  The music-applied pups had the highest number of correct choices in the radial arm maze.
The results of this study suggest that prenatal exposure to classical music in pups does help facilitate brain development in the hippocampus.  They also support the idea that, when applied during neurogenesis, the Mozart Effect is longer lasting, and may even be permanent. However, results with human participants are subject to variability (Department of Physiology Kyung Hee University 2006).


2.  The Gemara in Yoma might be read to mean that Reb Yochanan was a tzadik before he was born, and Shabsai the mobster was a rasha before he was born.  This is not true.  This would contradict every elementary concept of schar ve'onesh, and would provide an excuse for any kind  of bad behavior.  Sorry.  It doesn't.  What we do see from the Gemara is either A or B.
A. That Hashem knows the future, and knows that Rebbi Yochanan was going to be a tzadik.  Since Reb Yochanan was going to be a tzadik, Hashem protected him from food that was assur, like Hashta be'hemtam (Gittin and Chulin 7a). 
In light of the comments that came in, I need to expand a little on this point.  Please note that the passuk in Yirmiahu goes like this:
 בְּטֶרֶם אֶצָּרְךָ בַבֶּטֶן יְדַעְתִּיךָ, וּבְטֶרֶם תֵּצֵא מֵרֶחֶם הִקְדַּשְׁתִּיךָ
There are two halves in the passuk.   
I knew you before I formed you.  
Before you came out of the womb I sanctified you.
I believe that these two halves involve totally different concepts.  The first half means "I, Hashem, knew that you would be a holy man and a navi.  This knowledge is like any knowledge of nevu'ah, the simple fact that Hashem knows what the future holds.  The second half of the passuk means "Knowing that you  were going to be a tzadik and dedicated to My service, I protected you from unholy experiences."



Again, in the original post, I wrote that "This is the pshat we see in the Radak in the passuk in the beginning of Yirmiahu:  the Radak says that Hashem prepared Yirmiahu for his task from the moment he was conceived.  This preparation included whatever influences were necessary for a person particularly adapted for tzidkus and nevuah.  The Radak adds that 
. אביו ואמו נזהרו בקדושה וטהרה בעת ההריון שיהיה הנביא מקודש והחכם גדול"  
But now I see that what I am suggesting is different than the Radak.  The Radak is saying that his parents did all they could to ensure that he could be a tzadik.  What I'm saying, and what I believe the Gemara in Yoma is saying, is that since Hashem knew that Reb Yochanan and Yirmiahu would be tzadikim, Hashem protected them from things that were tamei.


B.  That people are born with tendencies, both physical and spiritual.  What we make of those tendencies is the difference between an Eisav and a David Hamelech.  Both were warriors, both were redheads, but one was Eisav and one was David Hamelech.


3.  Here's an interesting coincidence.  We just saw in the Gemara in Yoma, above, about Reb Yochanan, how his mother was calmed down by the whispered reminder of the kedusha of Yom Kippur.  There is a Gemara in Taanis 21 that echoes this story line.
Reb Yochanan and Ilfa were chavrusos, and both were great talmidei chachamim.  The time came when both had to admit that that they were starving, and they couldn't continue to learn unless they went to seek their fortune.  As they walked, Reb Yochanan heard a voice saying that one of these two would become Rosh Yeshiva.  Reb Yochanan asked Ilfa, "Did you hear that?"  Ilfa said "Hear what?"  So Reb Yochanan decided that the voice must have been meant for him.  He turned back, and was, indeed, made Rosh Yeshiva.  Ilfa, though he remained a great man, went into business and was very successful.  But of course, Ilfa is mentioned in the Gemara only twenty or thirty times, while Reb Yochanan is the pivot of Shas, Bavli and Yerushalmi.
Did you notice, though, that Reb Yochanan and a contemporary, once again, were about to leave a state of purity, and they both heard a whispered voice, and Reb Yochanan listened, and the other did not, and Reb Yochanan turned back while the other went on?  Exactly the same story line, with different words.  אותה הגברת, בשינוי אדרת

~

22 comments:

Devorah said...

You might be interested in this post which I just read:

http://soullite.blogspot.com/2011/03/extra-soul.html

Anonymous said...

C. The story about the 2 mothers has nothing to do with Hashem knowing the future or a person's tendencies from birth. Rather it shows the type of upbringing the children later had. One was raised in a house of avodas Hashem and dedication to Torah and Mitzvos the other was raised in what today we might call an "Orthodox Lite" home where halacha was kept, albeit begrudgingly and without a proper appreciation. (Similar to the shomer shabbos immigrants to America lesson)

Anonymous said...

Reb Yehoshua story also can be explained as an example of the home he grew up in, as opposed to some borderline metaphysical osmosis.

Devorah said...

Anonymous: (quote) The story about the 2 mothers has nothing to do with Hashem knowing the future or a person's tendencies from birth. Rather it shows the type of upbringing the children later had....(unquote)

But Hashem does know the future, and does know a person's tendencies from birth. The type of upbringing they had was also by hashgacha pratis.

The mother carrying the "tzadik" was a suitable mother for him...and raised him in a house fo avodas Hashem, as you say.....

We are all born to the parents most suitable for our mission in life.

b said...

To anonymous 1:55 and 1:58, are you channeling the Tiferes Yisrael or the Torah Temimah? Or the Rambam in Moreh?

What's wrong with saying what I said? What I said is, after all, what the Gemara in Sota 12b, as brought le'halacha by the Rama in YD 81:7, says about Moshe Rabbeinu, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

"But Hashem does know the future, and does know a person's tendencies from birth. The type of upbringing they had was also by hashgacha pratis

The type of upbringing they had was based on decisions of their parents. G-d does not control our individual actions or choices even if he know what they will be. This is as close to a universal hashkafic opinion as there is in Judaism.(Except the Ralbag who says there is no divine foreknowledge, but that's not important right now)

Anonymous said...

I'm channeling whoever disagrees with Calvin (which i thought was most Jews). While I certainly admit that people are born with traits such as jealously, anger, greed, etc, and that G-d knows what they are the idea that a person is predestined to be good or evil is a disturbing idea. I suppose that Moshe and/or other leaders might be designated from birth (although i still find this problematic from a schar/v'oneish point of view) I would even go so far as to say that pesukim that express this idea have to be treated non-literally in keeping with Saadia Gaon's idea that pesukim which contradict reason can be taken as non-literal

b said...

First of all, this has nothing to do with Calvin. We're not talking about the elect here, who can do whatever they want and get away with it because god loves them. We're talking about whether Hashem knows that a person will end up a tzadik or rasha. Assuming that Hashem does know that, as you do, since we prefer to ignore the Ohr Hachaim and the Ralbag that say that Hashem only knows the infinite possibilities till the end of time, which is a fine shitta to ignore, and since the Rambam himself agrees that Hashem does know whether a person will be a tzadik or a rasha, so what's the problem here? And even if, for the sake of argument, there were something to disagree about, which there isn't, what about the Gemara in Sota?

So since Hashem knows that X is going to be a tzadik, Hashem ensures that he is not besmirched with shkotzim and so forth. All the gemaros, like when Moshe was born the house filled with light, and on and on, just bespeak yediah, and have nothing to do with bechira.

Don't worry. There's no shame in being totally and irredeemably wrong.

b said...

and also, the pesukim the Gemara in Yoma brings would be irrelevant in making your point but on target for mine.

My assertion that there's no shame in being completely wrong is based on long and varied experience, particularly, but not limited to, things I have said on the internet.

Anonymous said...

Ok, before I respond, I just want to clear up a few things. I don't think we're really disagreeing on every point here.

1. I do not agree with the Or Hachaim or the Ralbag in this respect (although I do find it fascinating to occasionally view G-d's interaction with man in Tanach through their lens). The simple fact is that if G-d created time then he cannot be constrained by it. period.

2. "and since the Rambam himself agrees that Hashem does know whether a person will be a tzadik or a rasha, so what's the problem here? I AGREE that G-d knows what people will become. The problem is reading the story in the gemara to be saying "since she didnt eat on yom kippur, he was a tzadik" or "Reb Yehoshua was a Talmid Chacham because he went to the beis medrash as a child". that's nonsense. They were given certain attributes by G-d and they used them properly . I don't see whats to argue with there.

3. The only part i disagree with you is the statement that "So since Hashem knows that X is going to be a tzadik, Hashem ensures that he is not besmirched with shkotzim and so forth..." This I have a schar v'oneish problem with. I suspect that we have a hashgacha pratis disagreement on this issue. To be honest, i don't really know the level of hashgacha pratis in the world and neither do you. I have theological issues with the idea that every circumstance we are put in is a decision from G-d. Certainly i believe all choices are our own. As far as statements about Moshe go, the Sforno explicitly says that only a select elite have hashgacha pratis (obviously Moshe falls into that category). The modern idea of hashgacha pratis as preached in mishpacha magazine is a new phenomenon. All that being said, i don't believe our entire lives are run by chance. To me, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

One final thought- since it's all well and good to ignore Rishonim who have different hashkafos than you, surely you will grant me the ability to ignore Achronim with different hashkafos than me..

Now, am i still utterly wrong or just regular wrong? :-)

b said...

and that kind of intelligent give and take, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly why I spend so much time doing this.

Barzilai said...

Ok, now I will explain what I meant in the post. Of course we're not arguing about anything substantive.

When I said Hashta b'hemtam, I meant that Hashem ensures that his tzadikim are not sullied by exposure to ugly things, or at least by ingesting treif foods.

You said you have a problem with hashta b'hemtam before a person establishes himself as a tzadik.

I say that they wouldn't be less tzadik even if they were, and certainly not if their donkeys ate dmai, but it's just ma'us, and Hashem protects a tzadik from getting besmirched with treifus. Why? Maybe because they would mourn the soiling of their soul. Who knows why. But whatever it is, here you have a person that is going to be a tzadik. Hashem sees to it that he will not be sullied with dvarim asurim.

You could argue, based on the Magen Avraham that lo sa'achilum doesn't apply to food on Yom Kippur because it's not an issur cheftza, that there's no hashta be'hemtam either. But that doesn't seem to be the position of the Gemara in Yoma.

Devorah said...

"only a select elite have hashgacha pratis"

Isn't it commensurate with the level of a person's faith? The more emunah, the more hashgacha pratis....

Anonymous said...

That would probably be true according to a number of Achronim, but not many of the more rationalistic Rishonim. I don't accept that because Judaism is, and always was, a religion of Law, not of Faith. Orthopraxy (correct actions) has always been more important than Orthodoxy (correct belief). Which is why we still view the Ralbag and Or HaChayim as frum Jews, regardless of their not so borderline heretical opinions...

b said...

But since the protocols of Hashem's relationship to this world are most likely not determined by plebiscite, there is probably one approach that has always been true and all the others false, allowing for eilu v'eilu.

I know that "saying it's so don't make it so," but as you said about yedi'as Hashem, there are some ideas that are best filed under peculiar.

For what it's worth, I myself have always felt that shinui hateva has been concomitant and proportionate to each person's behavior in breaking his own teva, in bending it to Hashem's will. You change your derech hateva, I change derech hateva for you.

It would be a sad world indeed where Nesaneh Tokef was false advertising, where hester panim is so thorough that Hashem doesn't mix into teva and tefilla had no effect at all. To say that "maybe, maybe, Hashem will intervene on behalf of a tzibur, and even that only on extremely rare occasions, but will just leave individuals to the existential abyss of indifferent nature...." is bone-shakingly cold, if you ask me.

Anonymous said...

It is cold from a certain perspective but also comforting from another. For example, from this perspective, G-d doesn't spend his time killing babies and starting wars. Evil exists not because of a divine decree that we should suffer, but because G-d gave us the gift of free will and we can use it as we please. It also means that collectively, as a species, we can one day use this G-d given gift for life, and not for death. Again, I just want to emphasize that I have no set opinion on the issue, It's just not as simple as one being the "preferred option" and the other being horrible. Of course the traditional Jewish answer given to the question of evil is "גזרה היא מלפני" but that doesn't seem to have satisfied anyone, historically.

b said...

I've realized that I was to vague in what I wrote at the end of the post. I added the following to clarify it:

In light of the comments that came in, I need to expand a little on this point. Please note that the passuk in Yirmiahu goes like this:
בְּטֶרֶם אֶצָּרְךָ בַבֶּטֶן יְדַעְתִּיךָ, וּבְטֶרֶם תֵּצֵא מֵרֶחֶם הִקְדַּשְׁתִּיךָ
There are two halves in the passuk.
I knew you before I formed you.
Before you came out of the womb I sanctified you.
I believe that these two halves involve totally different concepts. The first half means "I, Hashem, knew that you would be a holy man and a navi. This knowledge is like any knowledge of nevu'ah, the simple fact that Hashem knows what the future holds. The second half of the passuk means "Knowing that you were going to be a tzadik and dedicated to My service, I protected you from unholy experiences."

Again, in the original post, I wrote that "This is the pshat we see in the Radak in the passuk in the beginning of Yirmiahu: the Radak says that Hashem prepared Yirmiahu for his task from the moment he was conceived. This preparation included whatever influences were necessary for a person particularly adapted for tzidkus and nevuah. The Radak adds that
. אביו ואמו נזהרו בקדושה וטהרה בעת ההריון שיהיה הנביא מקודש והחכם גדול"
But now I see that what I am suggesting is different than the Radak. The Radak is saying that his parents did all they could to ensure that he could be a tzadik. What I'm saying, and what I believe the Gemara in Yoma is saying, is that since Hashem knew that Reb Yochanan and Yirmiahu would be tzadikim, Hashem protected them from things that were tamei.

Anonymous said...

I'm not going to pretend that I knew that Radak, but it is remarkably similar to how i interpreted the stories in the Gemara in my first comment...

Anonymous said...

Was it the Radak about whom R Yosef Ber said "what he says is meenus, but we would count him to a minyan anyway" ?

Devorah said...

Quoting Anonymous: "Judaism is, and always was, a religion of Law, not of Faith"

Doesn't sound right to me. If you have no faith, why would you keep the laws?
Ever heard of the 13 Principles of Jewish FAITH ?

b said...

Devorah, although I can speak anonymously, I can't speak for Anonymous. But let me say this: people convince themselves superficially of all sorts of things. But when it comes to deep faith, you never really know what someone believes, not even yourself. The only way to really know, is to see the hard decisions a person makes under pressure. There was the famous Vilner Apikores, who was right-wing frum, while espousing the most anti-religious philosophy. It can be argued that as long as you believe in Torah MiSinai and Torah She'ba'al peh, and you do the mitzvos, then you're a believer, whether you like it or not.

Anonymous said...

@Devorah

You're exactly right. Faith is necessary as a prerequisite for keeping the mitzvos. That's why we have it. But faith does not play the same role in Judaism as it does in Christianity, where according to some, it is the only means of attaining salvation. Just compare how many pesukim talk about how to perform mitzvos vs how many discuss the nature of G-d or belief. It's pretty much limited to "Anochi Hashem" and "Shema Yisrael". As far as the 13 principles are concerned, they are hardly the last word on Jewish beliefs that many would have you believe. The Rambam himself had very different ideas as to what the principles meant as compared with how we think of them today (in particular regarding schar v'onesh). According to many the very notion that some ideas are more important than others is heretical. The point is that the 13 principles are a fine guideline but I'd still give an aliya to someone who disagreed with certain (but not all) principles, over someone who is michallel shabbos b'farhesia