Shabbat 77 – A Purpose for Everything
Thus we learn, according to Rab Judah in Rab’s name, that the snail exists to serve as a remedy for a scab, the fly to treat hornet stings, the mosquito for serpent bites, and spiders for scorpion stings. And Rab Judah also told Rabbi Zera “the secrets of the universe”: Why do goats walk before sheep? Like in Genesis, the dark precedes the light. Why do camels have short tails? Because they eat thorns and a long tail would be caught. Why is the ox’s tail long? To swat off the flies. Why is a chicken’s lower eyelid bent upwards? To keep out the dust from living in the rafters. Many of these are either rabbinic versions of “just so” stories, or part of the theology that the world exists for human benefit and use – either non-scientific or an incitement to human entitlement. But some of these explanations do make sense from an evolutionary perspective, like the ox’s tail. More proof that close observers of the universe, even coming from very different perspectives, can come to similar conclusions.
In the same vein, there are a whole series of puns or popular etymologies on today’s page – thus levusha [outer garment] is like lo busha [no shame], darga [stairs or ladder] is like derekh gag [way to the roof], etc. In some cases, the linguistic connection is clear – because Hebrew and Aramaic are both Semitic languages, their vocabularies and grammar are very similar. And because Semitic languages use a three-letter root system for word-concepts, the same three letters in different combinations can mean similar concepts. For example, Shalom is peace, shalem is complete, l’shalem is to pay, mushlam is perfect, etc.
All in all, an entertaining diversion from the picayune details of materials allowed out of the private domain on Shabbat!
Rabbi Adam Chalom