Mishnas Chayim – Va’eira: Deep Rooted Problems

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Chevra Lomdei Mishna
03 Jan 2008

Kindly take a moment to study MISHNAS CHAYIM in the merit of
דוד בן אברהם ע”ה
a fellow Jew who passed away with no relatives to arrange Torah study on behalf of his Neshamah.
View pdf – Parashat Va’Eira 5768

While discussing the plague of arov, the mixed multitude of wild animals, the Torah presents a pasuk which at first glance almost defies comprehension. When informing Moshe of the upcoming plague, Hashem says:

(וּמָלְאוּ בָּתֵּי מִצְרַיִם אֶת־הֶעָרֹב וְגַם הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר־הֵם עָלֶיהָ (שמות ח:י”ז “… and the houses of Egypt shall be filled with the arov, and also the ground that they are on…” (Shemos 8:17)

The ground that they are on? What does that mean? Of course the animals will fill up the ground that they are on, because, well, they’re on it!

The Torah doesn’t make mistakes. If we can’t understand the possuk, it must be that we are the ones missing the boat about something. Perhaps we can piece together a solution by turning to the Mishnah in Kilayim, which deals with one particular aspect of tumah.

A word about tumah in general: There are various sources of tumah, as well as various ways to impart it to someone or something else. A corpse, the quintessential source of tumah, possesses the unique capability of transferring its impurity even without actual contact. This transfer of tumah, referred to as tumas ohel, occurs when the pure and impure are found together under the same roof. Although animal carcasses can transfer tumah via direct contact, only a human body can cause defilement through tumas ohel.

The Mishnah discusses the status of the adnei hasadeh, a species of man-like creatures, as it relates to tumas ohel. The Mishnah (Kilayim 8:5) states:

אַדְנֵי הַשָּדֶה, חַיָּה. רַבִּי יוֹסֵי אוֹמֵר, מְטַמְּאוֹת בָּאֹהֶל כָּאָדָם.

“Adnei hasadeh have the (halachic) status of an animal (as opposed to having ‘human’ status). R’ Yosi says they cause ‘tent-defilement’—tumas ohel—like a person.”
The Tanna Kamma considers the adnei hasadeh to be members of the animal kingdom; thus, they could not be catalysts of tumas ohel. R’ Yosi disagrees, and considers them similar enough to humans to be able to defile through tumas ohel.

So, what exactly are these adnei hasadeh things? The Bartenura explains that they are creatures of the field who possess human-like faces, as well as arms and legs. These creatures are rooted to the ground by a cord which projects from their navels, which renders them stationary. Nevertheless, adnei hasadeh are considered extremely dangerous, as they attack anything that comes within striking distance. The only way to subdue an adnei hasadeh is by peppering its cord with arrows. Once the cord is severed, the animal expires. (See the Tiferes Yisroel for a full and fascinating discussion regarding the reason we do not find such creatures in existence today.)

Getting back to our discussion of arov, Rashi explains that every type of wild creature was brought into Egypt during this plague. In light of Rashi’s statement, the Vilna Gaon (Kol Eliyahu, se’if 51) queries: How could the adnei hasadeh be transported to Egypt? They were, after all, rooted to the ground; should their terrestrial umbilical chords be severed, they would not survive. Therefore, concludes the Gaon, it must be that Hashem transported the very earth to which they were connected! In other words, with the adnei hasadeh, it was a package deal—not only did they themselves enter Egypt, but their “ground” came with them!

The Hafla’ah (Panim Yafos) takes this idea one step further. In reality, animals only function at full strength in their native environment. A polar bear in Egypt, for instance, will lack the drive to operate at regular capacity due to its unfamiliar surroundings. In order for the animals to feel sufficiently comfortable in Egypt to perform their duties of attacking and eating people, they needed to be surrounded by their native conditions.

For Hashem, obviously, this was no problem; He simply brought the animals’ environments along with them. The polar bears came rolling into Egypt on their ice floes, the tigers with their jungles, and so on and so forth. Needless to say, the sudden influx into Egypt of not only hordes of vicious beasts but foreign habitats as well, had a devastating effect on the Egyptian terrain. (A glacier or tropical rain forest suddenly appearing in a city park or some choice farmland could be rather disruptive.)

With these insights, the meaning of our seemingly cryptic verse should now be clear. “And the houses of Egypt shall be filled with the arov, and also the ground that they are on.” The intent of the possuk is not to say that the arov filled the houses and the ground; rather, the ground itself, which had traveled along with the adnei hasadeh—or according to the opinion of the Haflo’oh, the ground which traveled with every animal—filled the Egyptian’s houses. Our possuk teaches that arov and their accompanying terrain shall both fill up the Egyptians’ houses, wreaking further well-deserved havoc on the householders.

This geologic pandemonium which accompanied the arrival of the ferocious fauna into Egypt was but a tip of the iceberg of the miraculous events which Hashem orchestrated at that time. May we merit to witness the Final Redemption whose events will dwarf even those of Mitzrayim, as the navi tells us (Yirmiyahu 23:7-8): “In those days, no longer will people refer to ‘the G-d Who took the Jews out of the land of Egypt,’ but rather to ‘the G-d Who… returned the… House of Israel… from all of the lands to which I had scattered them.’”

View pdf – Parashat Va’Eira 5768

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The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.