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Parsha Mitzvot: Shemini: Mitzvah 154 – Concept 458: Torat ha-Nefesh: Inclinations

“If an animal that you may eat has died, one who touches its carcass shall become contaminated until evening (Vayikra 11:39).” We are commanded to observe the laws of impurity caused by a dead beast (Rambam, Hilchot Sh’ar Avot ha-Tumah – The Laws of the Other Major Sources of Impurity).


All utensils made of the skin of creatures that live in the sea are insusceptible to uncleanliness accepting that which is made from the sea dog since this animal seeks refuge on dry land (Mishnah Keilim 17:13).

We can derive an important principle from this law about how we take measure of a person; for it seems from this law that we do not only consider his primary functioning, such as the sea dog being primarily a creature of the sea, but we look at the inclination as well; the natural inclination of the sea dog is to run to dry land when he feels he is in danger and it therefore has the status of a land animal. This would mean that when considering a person we pay attention to the person’s inclinations.

So we can picture a person steeped in the Sea of the Talmud, spending all his time in an environment of righteous and wise people, focused on the requirements of the law, striving for ever greater heights in Torah, wisdom, and fear of God, and yet, if his inclinations are to be someplace else, to have a different sort of life, he experiences envy over those who have a “more active” life, and there is always a part of his mind wondering about the world outside of the Sea in which he remains; he is measured by those inclinations!

Rabbeinu Yonah, in his commentary on Mishlei (20:10) explains that one may not have inaccurate business scales in his possession even if he never uses them because there will always be a part of his mind touching on those scales, considering the extra profit he can make by using them. “If so a person can be damaged simply by the evil intentions of his heart and the hints of negative attributes even if he never puts them into action.” (Torat ha-Nefesh, Rabbi Chaim Zaichyk, Shemini, First Ma’amar)

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