The Hyrax and The S'chach: Perceptions Matter
Can you explain for me, please, how come that its written that ‘HASHAFAN KI MA’ALEI GEIRA’ – ‘And the Hyrax, for it brings up its cud, but its hoof is not split – it is unclean to you.’ (Leviticus 11:5) when it’s against nature. So which one is the truth? Life or Torah in this case” E.G.
Thank you for your great and super important question. You are correct in stating that the Hyrax does not chew its cud. The Wikipedia entry for Hyrax says: Unlike the even-toed ungulates and some of the macropods, hyraxes do not chew cud to help extract nutrients from coarse, low-grade leaves and grasses. They do, however, have complex, multi-chambered stomachs that allow symbiotic bacteria to break down tough plant materials, and their overall ability to digest fiber is similar to that of the ungulates. They will show antagonistic behavior, such as making chewing motions, when they feel threatened. This behavior is often times confused with chewing cud. There are reports that the Hyrax can chew regurgitated food, however, this is infrequent and they do not do this for nutrition or as part of their diet.
One of the most important phrases in the article is that “They will show antagonistic behavior, such as making chewing motions, when they feel threatened. This behavior is often times confused with chewing cud.” The Hyrax, as well as the hare or rabbit in the following verse, appears to chew its cud. There are times that appearances matter.
Look up at the roof, the S’chach, of a Succah. There are both shade and light. The roof is incompletely covered with S’chach; there are open spaces through which we can see the stars. It reflects the fluctuations in our relationship with God. There are times we “see” God’s Presence with clarity, and there are times when we experience God as hidden. We can sense God’s protection some of the time, and at others we feel more vulnerable.
Some of the great Jewish thinkers see the open spaces as representations of God’s Light and the shaded areas as indications of God’s being Hidden. Other, equally great thinkers, see the shade as a symbol of Divine Protection and the open spaces as a mark of our vulnerabilities. Different people have different perceptions and they are both considered valid because of this strange verse about the Hyrax:
We do not know God as God truly is. God is Infinite and we are limited. We ‘know’ only that which God makes manifest. We understand only what we can see.
Even what we see is limited by our experiences. It is almost impossible to describe the difference between two colors to someone who was born blind and never saw colors. We fit our ‘knowledge” of God into our experiences and senses, which are limited.
We use appellations to speak of God: Merciful, Compassionate, Judge, Omnipotent, Omnipresent and The Power. We may not pronounce God’s name as spelled. We actually speak of our perceptions.
Both the Written and Oral laws govern our covenant with God. We use the principles of the Oral Law to apply the Mitzvot of the Torah to modern life. We cannot simply email God for His ruling on the laws of Shabbat or Kashrut. We rely on our judgment and perceptions. We would be unable to move forward and apply Halacha as we do to every single aspect of life if we could only deal with absolute truth. We must use the gifts we have, including our perceptions, as long as they are governed by the principles of the Oral Law.
When the Torah describes the Hyrax as it is perceived, not as it physically is, God is teaching us that we may apply His law based on our perceptions, even if we eventually determine that we are made a serious factual error.
You asked, “Which is true?” We know that the Hyrax does not chew its cud. We also know that the Torah says that we perceive that it does, and that the Torah wants us to consider our perceptions in our relationship with God and in the application of His Torah to our lives, even at the risk of being wrong.
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