Parshas Toldos - Zoological Torah Lessons

By Rabbi Yosef Tropper

Posted on 11/04/18

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1) Eisav’s Trapping Skills

The Torah (Bereishis 25:27) talks about Eisav as a hunter. Gra takes this pasuk out of the literal, simple translation of Rashi and says something most interesting. “Vayigdalu hane’arim”, the children, referring to Yaakov and Eisav, grew up.  Vayihi Eisav, and Eisav emerged.  He was “Ish yodei’ah tzayid”, a man who knew how to trap, “ish sadeh”, a man of the field. That’s the simple reading. 

Gra says that we know that there’s a creature that the meseches Kilayim (8:5) called the adnei hasadeh. It is an animal of some sort, the Mishna has a machlokes whether it’s metamei as a animal or as a human being. Gra brings down, and the mefarshim the Bartenurah and others explain that this is the Adoni, this is used for necromancy. The Torah says that we’re not allowed to perform ove and yedoni. The word yedoni comes from the word yediyah, according to many rishonim, that it’s knowledge.  It’s kind of like a oracle where a person, according to the Rav, takes this bone from the Yedoni, which according to some is a bird, according to others is from this animal, that’s what many mefarshim explain, and he’s able to tell the future through necromancy.

Bartenurah explains that it looks like a man, its face and its hands and there’s some mefarshim that say that its belly button has a rope which is connected to the ground coming from it, and no one can go near it because it’ll kill you. It grabs and rips everything apart.  However, if you want to trap it, then you shoot an arrow, and cut off that rope that’s attaching it to the ground.  It will scream and will die immediately.  And, so says the Gra that’s what’s beign hinted to in this pasuk. Eisav was the one person who knew how to trap this thing alive without killing it. That’s how he reads the pasuk: “Vayihi Eisav ish yodei’ah tzayid ish sadeh”.  He knew how to capture this adnei hasadeh, this man creature in the land. We’ll come back to this soon.

During The Makah of Arov - Mixed Beasts

There’s another Gra in Shemos that talks about makas arov that the pasuk says that the animals came “v’eis ha’adamah asheir alehah” which seems to be: and their land which were upon them. Some rishonim explain that when the animals came for arov and wild beasts, so Hashem wanted it to be very comfortable because they could do more damage in their own climate, so each one came with their own climates, so that they would be more comfortable and they would be more damaging to the Egyptians.

Gra says that it’s a remez to this animal, the adnei hasadeh,  because he couldn’t pull himself out of the ground, and, therefore, he needed to come “v’eis ha’adamah asheir aleha” with his ground with him.  He had to bring his a flower pot, some of the ground with him because that’s what he nourishes from. That’s what the Gra says over there.

Deeper Understanding

So, what’s the p’shat in this animal? What’s the Gra even trying to say? Why is it significant that Eisav was able to trap this animal. Is it just a show of his hunting skills?

I think that there’s something very unique about this animal. What we know about it is that from waist up it’s a man, and from waist down it seems to be some type of animal.  And, I think that this is just very interesting because the gemara in Sanhedrin talks about that the theologians thought that man had two gods: an upper god and a lower god.  And, again, it’s split at the waist because the goyim, the Gra explains in his peirush on Mishlei, and there’s a lot of beautiful explanations on this in Rav Aharon Feldman’s sefer, the Juggler and the King, where this concept is extrapolated on.

The Gemara says that the pagans worships two gods named Hormes and Ahormes. They were the god of Good/Hoiness and the god of Evil/Lust. They couldn’t understand how could there be man who has this intellectual greatness in him. His upper part, but then his lower part is just so base, and so human and so faulty, and so the way they explained it is that man has good and bad inside him.  He has good, intellect.  He has bad which is desires. 

This is not the Jewish way. The Jewish rabbis disproved this belief by asking, if what you say is true that the upper part of man is governed by one god and the lower part is the evil god, then why does the upper god let you eat? Why does he let food pass through his upper body into his lower body?  Now, they didn’t have an answer. 

Now, if you think about it, they could have said, because he has to live. But, the spiritual world doesn’t care about that, as Rambam writes, the building of the body is the destruction of the mind. The real answer is that we have one God, and He, Hashem, wants us to subjugate and control our base desires and elevate ourselves to spiritual greatness. When we do that then there’s really a unification.  It’s not two gods.  It’s not two matters.  There’s bechira that we have, and there is a pull for negative and there is a pull to do what’s right, and we have listen to that good part.

Eisav’s Desires

What’s being said here is that Eisav, instead of looking at that animal, so to speak, and conquering it in a healthy way, he lived according to its will. Man’s purpose is to kill that animal, his earthliness. Man must choose ruchniyus and recognize that his nourishment does not come from the ground. Instead, Eisav kept that alive, and that’s what Eisav was interested in.

This also explains why the animal gets primary focus during the Pesach story as well, in makas arov. The lesson behind yetziyas Mitzrayim is that the Rebono Shel Olam runs the world.  And, the Egyptians acted like animals, and they believed that they were connected to the ground, and so this animal exacted punishment against them. 

Additional Ideas

There is much written about the adnei hasadeh and I would like to share some more about it. Sefer HaAruch says that it is an animal that looks like a person, and that’s all he says.  Rambam, in his peirush on mishnayos, says that it an Elnanus animal in Arabic. I tried looking this up, and you can take a look at a peirush on mishnayos in Kilayim.  I believe that he might be saying the same thing that I’m about to quote from the Tiferes Yisrael (1782 - 1860) who lived much later.

Tiferes Yisrael suggests that it’s actually an orangutan.  This idea of it being attached to the ground which the Rav made famous, and the Rash Serilo in the Yerushalmi made famous is not found in Chazal. This whole vort from the Gra needs to be better understood.  It very well could be that it’s an orangutan. However, they’re not usually that big.  They usually weigh somewhere in the hundred pound range. Sometimes a little bigger, but they are very beastly, literally. There’s a lot of rishonim that bring down from different ma’amarei Chazal that seems to be that they talk like humans, but they’re not understood which would definitely sound like an animal from the monkey family. It very well could be that the word that the Rambam brings down in Arabic, actually, I looked it up, and it looks a little bit similar to some words that mean monkey in Arabic. It would explain a lot.  They’re beastly.  They look like man, and they’re dangerous and they tear their predators.  They’re very strong when they feel that they’re attacked. This idea that it was attached to the ground was something that came in later.

Suspended Status

There’s actually a very fascinating kuntrus written on this entire topic called “Kuntres Adnei Hasadeh” very appropriately. Rav Chaim Kanievsky gave a haskamah to it, and he writes that it’s a big kavod Shamayim to see someone spending so much time talking about one topic in Torah. Remember, Rav Chaim himself wrote an entire sefer tying together kol hatorah kulah to the sugya of Eglah Arufah!

One fascinating thing that I saw there which is very interesting is that the Arizal explains that just like the Kuzari explained a very big principle that there’s four different types.  There’s a domeim, tzomeiach, chai and medabeir.  There’s rock and plant animal, and humans. Kuzari explains that there’s also Yisrael which is a different level which we’ll explain for a different time.  The Arizal says that there’s one level in between each type as well. There’s something that’s sort-of a rock, but sort-of vegetation. There’s something that’s sort-of vegetation, and sort-of animal. There’s something very esoteric about this item, this Adnei hasadeh thing whatever it means, is between plant and animal. According to this explanation it sounds like a Venus Fly Trap. But that would be hard to explain as well as it doesn’t look like a human, doesn’t make noise and many other issues. Lke Rav Chaim Kanievsky writes that this is a kavod Torah to see that this one little item of Adnei hasadeh could have so much discussion.

Other Ideas

In that kuntres he has Shaylos and Teshuvos between Rav Zundel Kreis and Rav Chaim Kanievsky. Rav Zundel asked Rav Chaim: How did Adam name this thing.  Did Adam have to go to it if it was attached to the ground? Some mefarshim explain that it has a fifty amah range, and the simple understanding of it is in an orangutan is that people were just never able to get close enough to it to tame it, and so they were always scared of it because it was so dangerous. Torah has many beautiful ideas and so much depth to study.

2) Parallel Goat

Rivka has a plan (Bereishis 27:9).  She wants to make sure that her son Yaakov gets the berachos. So, she tells him: Go to the flock and take two goats that are good.  And, the gemara says what does it mean, “Shtei gidi izzim tovim”.  Bereishi Rabbah, the medrash says “tovim” means “tovim licha” because you’re going to steal the berachos it’s good for you, and “tovim l’banecha”.  It’s going to be good for your descendents because they’re going to be a kappara.  What’s the p’shat?  A kapparah for Yom Kippur.  What does that mean?

Gra explains that the goats that were brought on Yom Kippur, one of them was mechapeir Klal Yisrael.  That was laHashem, and the other one was l’fayeis lasatan kayaduah. That Azazel was to be mefayeis the satan.  So too, what Yaakov brought: one was in order to be able to steal the berachos, and the second one was to stop the satan from being mekatreig.

Gra says that this is yadua and dai l’havin. I’m not sure what that means. What I believe that he’s saying is that Eisav was like the Satan. Eisav was trying to stop Yaakov from being a productive person and from being a successful person, and that’s exactly what Yaakov is coming to fight against.  The two forces of power were battling it out on a microcosmic level, and it came a national battle that on Yom Kippur the Rebono Shel Olam is completing the judgment of Rosh Hashana to keep the world going and to keep us going, and there’s this epic battle that’s going on that Eisav is saying: Be an Olam Hazehdik person.  Only focus on physicality and Yaakov is fighting back and saying: No, there’s a spiritual world, and there’s a G-d.  We need to find Hashem.  And, that was the battle that was going on there.  And, that is the battle that continues throughout the generations where we have to choose between physicality and spirituality.

Concluding Words

Let us be zocheh that we should successfully win the battle, and everyday there’s a battle and every moment is a battle to be able to elevate ourselves and to send away the satan and give him whatever bribes he needs.  We talked about in the past “mashcheihu l’beis hamedrash” means use your creativity for Torah and be able to connect to Hashem every single day.


Rabbi Yosef Tropper is a rabbi and psychotherapist. Subscribe at ParshaThemes.com