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B'resheet/Genesis 7:2 From each of the clean beasts you shall take for yourself seven [by] seven
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HaShem is here instructing Noah on the quantities of the animals that he is to take with him into the ark to be preserved alive through the flood. The mismatch between the instructions here (i.e. 7:2) and just a few verses earlier - "And of all that lives, of all flesh, you shall take two of each into the ark to keep alive with you; they shall be male and female" (6:19, JPS) - is only one of the questions that has long puzzled the commentators. From the clean animals, is Noah to take one pair, two animals, male and female, or seven pairs? Another question frequently asked is how Noah knew which animals were clean or unclean, when the Torah clearly wasn't given until Mt. Sinai. In more recent days, when the integrity and inspiration of the text has been significantly attacked, both questions are purportedly answered by the Documentary Hypothesis. The argument is that there are two textual strands here: one written by priestly writers (P) who did not consider any sacrifice before the institution of the priesthood and the Temple to be interesting, so one pair would be all that was needed; the other by the Elohist writers (E) who did consider Noah's sacrifices significant so that he would have needed to know about clean vs. unclean animals.
The Sages of the Talmud addressed the clean/unclean question. "Were there then clean and unclean [animals] at that time? Said R. Samuel b. Nahmani in R. Jonathan's name: [It means] of those with which no sin had been committed. How did he [Noah] know? R. Hisda said: He led them past the Ark; those which the Ark accepted were certainly clean; those which the Ark rejected were certainly unclean. R. Abbahu said: Scripture says, 'And they that went in, went in male and female' (B'resheet 7:16): [that means,] that they went in of their own accord" (b. Zevachim 116a). When Noah led the animals past the ark, the Sages suggest, those that were clean went into the Ark in their respective pairs, voluntarily.
Rashi, tackling the issue of the quantity of animals - one vs. seven pairs - bases his comments on another writing by the ancient Sages: "Why did the Holy One, blessed be He, order more clean animals [to be saved] than unclean ones? Surely because He desires that offerings should be made to Him of the former" (B'resheet Rabbah 26:1). Rashi deduces that Noah must have studied Torah both to know the difference between clean and unclean animals and to know that only clean ones could be used for sacrifices. This is why, the Sages say, "Straightaway, 'Noah built an altar to the L-RD and, taking of every clean animal and of every clean bird, he offered burnt offerings on the altar' (B'resheet 8:20)" (ibid.). It was necessary that there should be more than one pair of the clean animals so that after having been so carefully preserved in the Ark, the species was not wiped out immediately afterwards by one or both animals being sacrificed.
Once the Torah was given, the Israelites knew that there were two levels of requirement: the Israelite table and the table of the L-rd: the altar. The rule for meat that could be eaten by the Israelites was straightforward: "any animal that has true hoofs, with clefts through the hoofs, and that chews the cud -- such you may eat" (Vayikra 11:3, JPS). This included the domestic animals of sheep, oxen/cows and goats, but also included deer, ibex and other 'wild' cousins of the domestic animals; all provided that they were slaughtered in the approved manner and the blood not consumed. The rule for sacrificial animals, on other hand, was more restrictive. Using the idea that the word , often translated "cattle", refers to domestic animals only, and that wild animals are excluded from being used as offerings, since the idea of an offering includes giving up something that one owns and wild animals are not owned by anyone, the rabbis have concluded that only cattle, sheep and goats - the main domestic animals - may be used for sacrifice.
During the years of the divided kingdoms, the priests and Levites did not comply with their duty to educate the people about the differences between clean and unclean animals: "Her priests have done violence to My law and have profaned My holy things. They have made no distinction between the holy and the common, neither have they taught the difference between the unclean and the clean, and they have disregarded My Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them" (Ezekiel 22;26, ESV). Not only had they failed to observe the regulations in their own lives and ministry, but they had not taught the people about G-d's regulations either. The result was that the people neither kept shabbat properly, nor offered the right sacrifices; more, they were weak and susceptible to the appeal of the gods of the pagan nations surrounding Israel and Judah, so that rampant idolatry broke out. Among other things, this contributed to the exile of the Jewish people to Babylon for seventy years.
When the people returned from exile, the lesson about idolatry at least was learned and by Second Temple times, although the Jewish education level in the Galil was despised by the jewish leadership in Jerusalem, many people were aware of the basic requirements of kashrut - eating only kosher food. This sets the backdrop for Simon Peter's vision on the roof top of Simon the Tanner's house in Joppa, recorded in Acts 10. "The next day about noon, while they were still on their way and approaching the city, Kefa went up onto the roof of the house to pray. He began to feel hungry and wanted something to eat; but while they were preparing the meal, he fell into a trance in which he saw heaven opened, and something that looked like a large sheet being lowered to the ground by its four corners. In it were all kinds of four-footed animals, crawling creatures and wild birds" (Acts 10:9-12, CJB). This was hardly food that a nice Jewish boy could eat; in fact, by Jewish thought, it was not food at all. Amazingly, however, the vision itself was accompanied by a voice: "Then a voice came to him, 'Get up, Kefa, slaughter and eat!'" (v. 13, CJB). Peter's response, a typical Simon-Peter answer, arguing as usual, was a very robust piece: "But Kefa said, 'No, sir! Absolutely not! I have never eaten food that was unclean or treif'" (v. 14, CJB). Although the CJB is fairly colloquial here, perhaps going a little further than some might feel appropriate, it does capture well the degree of indignation and righteous concern that Peter feels. The vision repeats twice more, with the same voice and response. Peter is left on the roof, puzzling over what it was all about; after all, G-d couldn't really be telling him to eat non-kosher animals, because that would be contradicting the Torah for him as a Jew, so it must mean something else.
While he is thinking, the Ruach tells Peter that he is about to be visited by three Gentile men, who will ask him to go with them, and instructs him to go because G-d Himself has organised the whole thing. We skip to Peter's arrival at Cornelius' house, where Peter hears about the vision that Cornelius had had and suddenly the pieces click into place: "I now understand that G-d does not play favourites, but that whoever fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him, no matter what people he belongs to" (vv. 34-35, CJB). Peter recognises that his vision was not about food at all, but about men. All men are made in the image of G-d, by G-d. In spite of the fall, in spite of man's universal tendency to sin, G-d's fundamental design in each of us is still there, awaiting redemption in Messiah Yeshua. The Jewish Hassidic movement speaks about the sparks of godliness in each Jew - in Yiddish, pintele Yid or Jewish spark - waiting to be fanned into flame. But Gentiles too are sons of Adam and Noah (and sometimes Abraham) and are made in G-d's image. Each deserves respect as a person; each needs the opportunity to hear the gospel, each - however low they have fallen - may be the target of Yeshua's words: "Yes! I tell you that whenever you did these things for one of the least important of these brothers of Mine, you did them for Me!" (Matthew 25:40, CJB).
We are not to judge who is worthy of receiving G-d's blessing, whether homeless, in prison, dying of AIDS or some other incurable condition. Our job is simply, as prompted by the Ruach to be Yeshua for them, to extend them His love, to give them dignity as fellow human beings. Noah took seven pairs of "clean" animals into the Ark with him at G-d's command, so that once the flood was over, he might offer a clean and pleasing sacrifice to G-d. We too are called to offer a pleasing sacrifice to G-d by treating our fellow men as "clean" and not untouchable.
Further Study: Matthew 10:24-25a; Luke 6:35; 2 Corinthians 8:12
Application: Do you have a 'phobia' about certain types or groups of people, so that you would be unable to explain the gospel to them, or even to offer them a cup of cold water? Getting beyond those feelings is essential to being like Yeshua, so today would be a good day not only to ask the L-rd to help you with those feelings, but to give you an opportunity to change your idea in practice!
© Jonathan Allen, 2011
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