THOUGHTS ON THE DAILY DAF
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Rosh Kollel: Rav Mordecai Kornfeld
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1) THE MOUSE THAT GROWS FROM THE GROUND
OPINIONS: The Gemara relates that a certain heretic challenged Rebbi Ami
regarding Techiyas ha'Mesim, saying that it is not possible for a decomposed
body, which turns into earth, to rise again as a living body. One of Rebbi
Ami's proofs for Techiyas ha'Mesim was the fact that there is a rodent that
lives in the valley "that today is half-flesh and half-earth, and tomorrow
it becomes completely flesh."
2) THE VICTORIES OF GEVIHA BEN PESISA
We find this creature mentioned elsewhere in the Gemara in a different
context. The Mishnah in Chulin (126b) mentions a mouse "which is half-flesh
and half-earth; one who touches the flesh part is Tamei, and one who touches
the earth part is Tahor."
According to modern scientific knowledge of the biological world, all living
things come about through propagation and regeneration. However, in the
times of the Chachamim, it was accepted by all that many creatures are
formed from inanimate objects. The Gemara in Shabbos (107b) permits killing,
on Shabbos, a louse that is produced from sweat spontaneously (see TOSFOS,
Shabbos 12a). The SHULCHAN ARUCH (YD 84:15) prohibits eating birds that grow
on trees because of the Isur of Sheretz. It was also commonly believed that
flies are produced from rotting meat. (It was only towards the end of the
seventeenth century (C. E.) that experiments by Francesco Redi and Louis
Pasteur surprised the world by proving that substances that were protected
from the air did not produce insects.) The reason Rebbi Ami proves his point
from the rodent is because the rodent arises not from a living organism, but
from dirt, like the dead who will come to life.
Is there any evidence today to support the existence of rodents that are
formed from the earth? (The following discussion is culled primarily from
the research of Rabbi Nosson Slifkin (www.zootorah.com), which will be
published in his forthcoming book, "Mysterious Creatures," Targum Press,
(a) The RAMBAM seems to confirm the existence of such a creature. In Perush
ha'Mishnayos (Chulin, ibid.) he writes, "This is a well-known matter; there
is no end to the number of people who have told me that they have seen it.
Such a thing is indeed astonishing, and I have no explanation for it."
The TIFERES YISRAEL (Bo'az, Chulin 9:6) also defends the existence of such a
creature. He writes, "I have heard heretics mocking with regard to the
creature that is discussed here and in Sanhedrin 91a, and denying it, saying
that there is no such thing at all. Therefore, I have seen fit to mention
here that which I found written in a Western European work compiled by a
scholar renowned among the scholars of the world. His name is Link, and the
book is titled 'Auervelt.' In volume I, page 327, he writes that such a
creature was found in Egypt in the district of Thebes, and in the Egyptian
language that rodent is called 'dipus jaculus;' and in German it is called
'springmaus.' Its forequarters -- head, chest, and hands -- are perfectly
formed, but its hindquarters are still embedded in the earth, until after
several days when it fully changes to flesh. And I say, 'How great are Your
(b) However, Professor S. Z. Leiman has raised doubts about the accuracy of
the Tiferes Yisrael's understanding of Link's words (in his article
entitled, "Rav Yisrael Lipshutz and the Mouse that is Half Flesh and Half
Earth," printed in Chazon Nachum, New York, Yeshiva University 1998). Link
cites Diodorus Siculus, a Greek historian, who reports that the Egyptians
maintain that life first began in Egypt, and as proof of this they note that
mice are generated in vast numbers from the soil of their land. Diodorus
himself testifies, "Indeed, even in our day during the inundations of Egypt,
the generation of forms of animal life can clearly be seen taking place in
the pools which remain the longest, for, whenever the river begun to recede
and the sun has thoroughly dried the surface of the slime, living animals,
they say, take shape, some of them fully formed, but some only half so and
still actually united with the very earth."
Link then adds a footnote to Diodorus' account. He writes, "The springmaus
(dipus jaculus), which dwells in Upper Egypt and is characterized by very
short forelegs, looks as though it is a creature that is not yet fully
This "springmaus" is the jerboa. The jerboa belongs to a family of tiny to
large rodents that have very small forelegs (which they hold against their
bodies) and long back legs for jumping and dig burrows in which they sleep.
One of the three small subfamilies is known as Dipodinae and it includes the
genus Jaculus. This is the dipus jaculus mentioned by Link.
It is clear that Link himself, who lived in the nineteenth century and was
very familiar with the jerboa, did not believe that it or any other animal
grows from the ground. Rather, he is saying that this creature may be the
source of the Egyptian myth. Because the jerboa's forelegs are not visible
while it is jumping, it appears to be a two-legged mouse (which is why it is
called "dipus," or "two legs"). One who observes it sitting on the ground or
jumping in the air, it appears that the two hind-legs are actually the
forelegs, and the rear part of the mouse has not yet been formed.
Rav Aryeh Carmell suggests that the creature referred to is the mole. A dead
mole, with clods of earth attached to its body, would appear to have grown
from the ground. Alternatively, as it emerges from the earth, people could
mistakenly believe that it is growing from the earth. (However, the people
in the time of the Gemara seem to have been familiar with moles and
burrowing creatures, and thus people would not have been mistaken about the
nature of such a creature; see Mo'ed Katan 6b.)
Perhaps we may suggest that the myth developed from the existence of certain
species of small amphibians and rodents that burrow in the mud and entomb
themselves in a cocoon of solidified mud during the dry season. Entombed,
the creatures' bodily functions nearly cease and they remain entirely
motionless until the first rain, at which point they shed their cocoon. A
creature photographed in such a state unquestionably appears as a clod of
earth, and while leaving its cocoon it certainly looks as though it is
half-earth and half-creature. One such animal is the burrowing frog, which
lives in arid regions and deserts. At the start of a long dry spell, when
the pools from the last rainstorms are in the last stages of evaporation,
the frog buries itself up to twelve inches deep in the mud. There it settles
into a state of suspended animation, with its breathing and heartbeat
slowing to a rate just sufficient to keep it alive. After about two weeks,
the outer layers of the frog's skin detach and meld together into a membrane
that is fully waterproof apart from two tiny tubes to the frog's nostrils.
The frog can survive in this state amidst desert drought for many years.
Then, when the rainfall finally comes and turns the sand into mud, the frog
breaks out if its bag and emerges upon the surface, appearing to have grown
from the mud.
(c) RAV SAMSON RAPHAEL HIRSCH has an enlightening approach to the subject of
how to understand statements like these in the Gemara in light of modern
science. In his essay entitled, "Trusting the Torah's Sages" (a letter
written in 1876 to Rav Pinchas M. E. Wechsler, published in 1976 in the
Jerusalem journal Hama'ayan, Chapter 4), he writes, "Imagine if a scholar
such as Humboldt had lived in their times and had traveled to the ends of
the world for his biological investigations. If upon his return he would
report that in some distant land there is a humanoid creature growing from
the ground or that he had found mice that had been generated from the soil
and had in fact seen a mouse that was half-earth and half-flesh and his
report was accepted by the world as true, would we not expect Chazal to
discuss the Torah aspects that apply to these instances? What laws of Tum'ah
and Taharah apply to these creatures? Or would we expect them to go on long
journeys to find out whether what the world has accepted is really true? And
if, as we see things today, these instances are considered fiction, can
Chazal be blamed for ideas that were accepted by the naturalists of their
times? And this is what really happened. These statements are to be found in
the works of Pliny, who lived in Rome at the time the second Beis ha'Mikdash
was destroyed, and who collected in his books on nature all that was
well-known and accepted in his day."
Rav Hirsch explains that the Chachamim were simply giving a ruling for a
case that was presented to them. They did not take it upon themselves to
verify whether or not such creatures existed, just as the Torah scholars of
Rav Hirsch's day would readily accept the testimony of Alexander von
Humboldt, a famous German naturalist.
QUESTION: The Gemara relates how Geviha ben Pesisa refuted the claims of the
three nations that made demands from the Jewish people. The Benei Afrikiya
claimed that they were entitled to Eretz Yisrael, and Geviha refuted their
claim. The Benei Mitzrayim claimed that the Jewish people owed them money,
and Geviha refuted their claim. The Benei Yishmael demanded an equal portion
of Eretz Yisrael, and Geviha refuted their claim.
The Gemara states that the Jewish people celebrated these victories on the
twenty-fourth of Nisan, implying that all three claims came on the same day,
one after the other. Indeed, this is this way these disputes are recorded in
Megilas Ta'anis and in the Midrash (Bereishis Rabah 61). This is probably
why the VILNA GA'ON omits the words, "Pa'am Achas" ("another time"), from
According to this Girsa, the wording implies that the Mitzrim came only
after the Africans were refuted, and the Yishmaelim came only after the
Mitzrim were refuted. Why did they not all come together, at the same time?
ANSWER: The IYUN YAKOV explains that the Mitzrim did not submit their claim
immediately, because they knew that a loan cannot be collected from the heir
of the borrower unless he inherited land from his father. The Mitzrim
thought that the Jews had no land at the time of Yetzi'as Mitzrayim. Now
that the Mitzrim saw that the Jews won the dispute against the Africans by
showing that Kena'an was their slave and therefore they owned all of Eretz
Kena'an from the time of Shem, the Mitzrim realized that the debt could be
collected from that land! According to this explanation, the Mitzrim -- like
the other two nations -- were making a claim for Eretz Yisrael.
The Benei Yishmael did not submit their claim until they saw that the
Mitzrim lost their case. They originally thought that they had no claim to
Eretz Yisrael, because Eretz Yisrael was given to Avraham Avinu's
descendants only in return for "payment" -- his descendants had to serve as
slaves and suffer affliction in a foreign land for four hundred years in
order to receive the land. However, when they saw that the Jewish people
received other compensation for their service in Mitzrayim (they were
allowed to keep all of the money that they took), the Yishmaelim claimed
that the right of the Jewish people to Eretz Yisrael is no stronger than
their own right to it. Geviha refuted their claim by showing that their
right to Eretz Yisrael was forfeited at the time that Avraham Avinu sent
them away and gave them other gifts.
3) WHEN DOES THE YETZER HA'RA ENTER A PERSON
QUESTION: Antoninus taught Rebbi that a person receives a Yetzer ha'Ra only
upon exiting his mother's womb. His proof was that if a child has a Yetzer
ha'Ra in the womb, he would kick his way out of the womb. Rebbi cited a
verse to support this view.
How can this be reconciled with what RASHI writes in Parshas Toldos
(Bereishis 25:22)? Rashi writes that when Rivka was pregnant with Yakov and
Esav, she felt Yakov kicking to get out when she passed a Beis Midrash, and
she felt Esav kicking to get out when she passed a house of idol worship.
Similarly, the Tanchuma (Parshas Ki Seitzei) states that Esav, in his
viciousness, destroyed his mother's womb as he exited. This implies that
even before a child is born, he has a Yetzer ha'Ra!
We find a similar incident recorded in the Gemara in Yoma (82b-83a), which
tells about a pregnant woman who had a strong craving for food on Yom Kipur.
Her craving could not be quelled, and so they fed her. When the baby was
born, he grew up to be a Rasha. The Chachamim said of him, "Zoru Resha'im
me'Rachem" -- "The wicked are estranged from the womb" (Tehilim 58:4). This
also implies that a person has a Yetzer ha'Ra even in the womb.
(a) The BE'ER SHEVA explains that since we find that a child learns Torah in
the womb (Nidah 30a), it is evident that he has a Yetzer Tov. If he has a
Yetzer Tov which normally comes later (at the time he becomes mature), then
he certainly should have a Yetzer ha'Ra. What, then, does our Gemara mean?
Our Gemara means that there are two levels to the Yetzer Tov and Yetzer
ha'Ra. The first level is an active Yetzer ha'Ra which causes a person to do
evil deeds. The second is a Yetzer ha'Ra that causes a person to have evil
thoughts. In the womb, the Yetzer Tov and Yetzer ha'Ra only cause a person
to have good thoughts or evil thoughts. When the person exits the womb, he
acquires an additional Yetzer ha'Ra, which entices him to do evil deeds.
The MARGOLIYOS HA'YAM points out that the PISKEI TOSFOS in Nedarim (#62)
does not seem to accept this approach. He infers from the Gemara in Nidah
that in the womb a child has a Yetzer Tov, but when he is born the Yetzer
ha'Ra comes and banishes the Yetzer Tov until the person matures and becomes
wise, at which time the Yetzer Tov returns.
(b) The MAHARAL in GUR ARYEH (Bereishis 8:21, 25:22; see also 6:6) explains
that sometimes a child does evil not because his Yetzer ha'Ra drives him to
do it, but because that is his natural tendency. This is not related to the
persuasion of the Yetzer ha'Ra. (A possible source for this might be the
Gemara in Shabbos 156a, which discusses how children born at certain times
have tendencies towards evil. See the Gemara there on 156b, where the mother
of Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak was told, before her child was born, that her
child would have the qualities of a thief. He was saved from this destiny
only because he kept his head covered.)
Yakov and Esav, and the Rasha mentioned in Yoma, were following their
natural tendencies and were not being driven by the Yetzer ha'Ra.
(c) The SEFER CHASIDIM (#1137) and RAV YAKOV EMDEN here explain that there
are certain Resha'im Gemurim, absolutely wicked people, whose Neshamos come
from a source of Tum'ah such that even the Neshamah is blemished. Rav Yakov
Emden adds that these are not real Neshamos, since a real Neshamah has its
source in the Kedushah and Taharah of Hashem. The Sefer Chasidim explains
that these are the 974 generations of souls that were uprooted from being
created, as the Gemara mentions in Chagigah (end of 13b), from which the
most brazen people of each generation are derived.
Such Neshamos have evil tendencies even in the mother's womb. (According to
the Tanchuma mentioned above, Esav did, in fact, "kick his way out" of his
mother's womb, tearing his way out violently.) Antoninus' proof that a child
does not have a Yetzer ha'Ra in the womb is from the majority of people, who
do not tear their way out of the womb.