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Yoma 9


AGADAH: Said Rav Yochanan, "Better were the fingernails of earlier generations than the intestines of our own generation. [And if you suggest that we are better than they, consider that] the Temple was rebuilt for them, and it has not been rebuilt for us."

QUESTION: What did Rav Yochanan mean by his reference to fingernails and intestines? In the most simple sense, the expression is meant to allude that even the least important part of our ancestor's bodies carries more spiritual value than the most important part of our own bodies. Why, though, did he mention specifically "fingernails and intestines" and not more obviously contrasting body parts, such as heels and head?

ANSWER: The VILNA GA'ON (Kol Eliyahu #201, and Perush Al Kamah Agados) offers a deeper explanation of this Gemara. (Our rendition is based on Ha'Rav Aharon Feldman's translation and elucidation in "The Juggler and the King," Feldheim, 1990.)

In Parshas Shemini, the Torah lays the guidelines for determining what animals are permissible to be eaten. There are two signs which an animal must have in order to be kosher: it must ruminate, and it must have split hooves. The Torah prohibits four animals which have only one of the two signs of kosher animals: the camel, the rabbit, and the hare ruminate but do not have split hooves, while the pig has split hooves but does not ruminate (Vayikra 11:3-7).

These two signs of a kosher animal indicate that the animal is not a beast of prey, and in that sense it is content with its lot. A hunting animal does not chew its cud since meat is digestible without rumination. However, once the prey is digested, the predator seeks new food, ever discontent and ravenous. A ruminant, on the other hand, is content with whatever is already in its stomach, and makes it do double service, so to speak. Also, a hunting animal possesses claws with which to tear its victims apart. A kosher animal is satisfied with the food its Creator brings forth for it from the ground. It has no need for claws, and thus its hooves are split.

The commentators (see Ramban, Vayikra 11:13) explain that non-kosher animals are forbidden as food because eating them influences man towards the undesired characteristics of a beast of prey: discontent with one's lot and the resultant exploitation of other creatures. Dissatisfaction with one's lot stems from a lack of faith in G-d's providence.

The four animals singled out by the Torah represent four forms of *spiritual* impurity. The first three animals have the internal sign of Kashrus (chewing the cud) but not the external one. They represent the person whose inner essence is amenable to holiness, but is prevented from realizing itself by inappropriate external behavior. The fourth animal, the pig, has the external sign of Kashrus but not the internal one. It represents a worse form of impurity: a person whose outer behavior is expressive of holiness but who inwardly denies the dominion of G-d. This person has "cloven hooves" instead of claws, but his inner nature is that of a beast of prey.

Similarly, say Chazal, these four forms of impurity are represented by the four great kingdoms that have subjugated the Jewish people: Babylonia, Persia, Greece, and Rome. The first three are represented, respectively, by the camel, the rabbit, and the hare; the fourth, Rome, is represented by the pig (Vayikra Raba 13:5). Like the non-kosher animals mentioned in the Torah, the first three kingdoms demonstrated the behavior of a beast of prey, seeking wealth and self-aggrandizement at the expense of others. But within their hearts they believed in G-d and His providence. The Roman Empire, however, displayed all the external signs of commitment to spirituality; on the surface it was civilized, looked after human welfare, and preached justice and human rights. Inwardly, though, it believed in nothing but self- worship.

After the destruction of the first Beis ha'Mikdash, the Jewish people were exiled among the first three of these four nations. When the second Beis ha'Mikdash was destroyed, we became fully subjugated to the Roman Empire. In light of the above Midrash, it is clear that Hashem chose our oppressors in a most befitting manner. As the Gemara in our Sugya tells us, "For what was the first Beis ha'Mikdash destroyed? For [the] three [cardinal] sins that were rampant then: idolatry, sexual immorality, and murder.... But in the times of the second Beis ha'Mikdash [the Jews] were busily studying Torah and performing Mitzvos and acts of kindness -- for what then was *it* destroyed? Because they hated each other without cause. From this one may learn that unwarranted hatred is as great a sin as idolatry, immorality, and murder all together."

The earlier generations suffered from serious evil in their external behavior, but in their hearts they acknowledged G-d's kingship. Following the symbolism of the kosher and non-kosher animals, the earlier generations were like animals that have claws but chew their cud. The later generations, however, were like the pig: they showed their cloven hooves, but inwardly were unclean. Their society was filled with clandestine hatred and jealousy, and the resultant denial of G-d's dominion. How fitting, then, that our oppressors after the destruction of the first Beis ha'Mikdash were the first three of the four nations, who demonstrated the behavior of the animals that have claws but chew their cud. They were granted power over the Jews, when the Jews sank to that level themselves, while after the destruction of the second Beis ha'Mikdash, Rome -- represented by the pig, the fourth animal -- took rule over us, measure for measure. The test of the Roman dominion is the most difficult the Jewish people have ever faced -- and face to this very day. The Jews' mission is to learn, in the midst of the Roman dominion, to reject man's tendency for self-worship.

This explains Rav Yochanan's comment about fingernails and intestines. The "fingernails" he mentioned allude to the *claws* (as opposed to cloven hooves) of the hunting animal. These, in turn, represent the external sins of the earlier generations. The "intestines" he mentioned refer to the organs which prevents the non-ruminating animals from being kosher, as well as the internal sins of the later generations. Rav Yochanan's comment can now be read as follows, "Better one who behaves like a beast of prey, but whose heart longs for G-d, than the most pietistic of men, who in his heart worships only himself!"

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