April 14, 2024
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April 14, 2024
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Shemini: The Hyrax and the Hoopoe

Vayikra: 11: 1-29

A lonely hyrax sat on a windswept butte overlooking the verdant green valley below. He was a plump little fellow, about the size of a cat, who looked something like a rabbit who had eaten a few carrots too many—if you catch my drift—and he had deep brown fur with a white patch on his neck. The hyrax looked out on the valley, lost in his thoughts, and contemplated his fate.

Along flew a hoopoe and set down on a boulder directly adjacent to where the hyrax sat.


“Hi. What’s happening.”

The hoopoe was a brightly colored bird, with a long, thin beak, a plume of feathers on top of his head, and black and white striped wings.

The two stayed at their respective perches and did not speak for a long time. The hyrax chewed pensively on a blade of grass, and the hoopoe pecked into the dirt with a sudden, jerking motion, in search of insects. Finally, the hoopoe broke the silence.

“So why the long face?”

“Oh, I don’t know. I was just thinking how life can be unfair.”

“How so?”

“Well, I’m a perfectly nice rodent. I live on plants. I don’t make a lot of trouble. I mean, do you find me unclean—temayah—or offensive?”

“Not particularly.”

“I didn’t think so. And yet, I’m singled out to be one of the animal species who is considered unclean and unfit to be eaten by Israelites in the Torah.”

“Really?” the hoopoe said, “Me too.”

“Who are you?” the hyrax asked.

“I’m the duchifat,” the hoopoe said. “I’m in that long biblical laundry list of ‘birds you shall abominate and shall not be eaten,’ along with the yanshuf, the kinshenet, and all the other birds of an abominable feather.”

“I see,” the hyrax said politely. For he was nothing if not polite.

“Who are you?” the hoopoe asked, “if I may be so bold as to inquire.”

“I’m the shafan,” the hyrax said. “I bring up my cud, but I lack a split hoof.”

“I see,” the hoopoe said.

The two went back to their foraging for food, and silence ensued for a long while.

“I mean, it’s not my intention to be difficult,” the hyrax suddenly interjected. “And it’s not like I want to be eaten, or anything like that, but I don’t like to be thought of as unclean. I’m not exactly a pig or a camel, know what I’m saying?”

“Sure,” the hoopoe offered sympathetically.

“And there are even those who suggest that we’re not supposed to be eaten because G-d decided we’re somehow bad for man’s health.* Can you imagine? I’m a vegetarian, for crying out loud.”

“I see your point,” the hoopoe agreed. “I’m not exactly a vulture or a raven myself. I just like an occasional worm. I don’t think that’s so bad.”

“I should say not,” the hyrax agreed.

“Still, I might point out that the dietary restrictions of the Torah may have little to do with our particular animal nature,” the hoopoe suggested.


“Yes, it’s quite possible that G-d chose which animals were permissible to eat and which were unclean somewhat arbitrarily. Perhaps the whole purpose of the prohibition is to teach the Jews to lead a life of discipline and accept G-d’s rule by denying them some of the things they desire.”**

“Interesting point,” the hyrax said.

“And by that logic, you and I might be some of the more desirable morsels in the animal kingdom, and G-d denied us to the Jews to teach them temperance. So we’re not really unclean, we’re just too delicious to be permitted to be eaten.”

“Good one,” the hyrax said. “I’m feeling better already.”

“I’m glad I could help,” the hoopoe said.

“You really know your stuff,” the hyrax said.

“I get around.”


*My apologies to the Rambam for expressing his views through the words of a rodent.

**My apologies to the Akedat Yitzchak for his expressing his views through the beak of a bird.

By Larry Stiefel

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