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Speech Or Food?

Bereishit (Genesis 1:1-6:8 )

by Rabbi Ozer Alport

A man who was stricken with cancer was presented by his doctor with a painful and heart-wrenching decision. In order to treat his illness, the doctor would need to perform surgery, and in order to access the affected region, he would need to cut through either the man's esophagus or his vocal cords. As a result, the man would permanently lose either the ability to eat (requiring a feeding tube) or the ability to speak. From a medical perspective, the two options were equal, so the doctor gave the man the choice of how the surgery should be performed.

Although most people would approach this tragic decision by weighing which of the two faculties is more important to them, this patient was an observant Jew who understood that his decision would have important ramifications for his ability to perform mitzvot. If he gave up his ability to eat naturally, he would no longer be able to perform the biblical commands of eating matzah on Passover, a meal prior to Yom Kippur, and eating in the sukkah. On the other hand, if he lost his faculty of speech, he would be unable to say the Shema and the Grace After Meals.

Unsure of the proper course of action, he approached a rabbi for guidance. However, rather than focus on weighing the mitzvot to be preserved and lost, the rabbi surprised the man by citing the translation of Onkeles (first century C.E.) on the verse in Genesis 2:7. The Torah records that God formed man from the dust of the ground and blew into him the soul of life, at which point man became a living being. Onkeles renders the phrase "and man became a living being" as a reference to the fact that he acquired the ability to speak.

In other words, as advanced as man may be, virtually everything can be duplicated by other living creatures. Onkeles is teaching us that what makes man uniquely human and elevated above all other species is the ability to speak. In light of this insight into the special status of the power of speech, the rabbi advised the man to preserve his vocal cords and forego the ability to eat naturally.

Rabbi Yitzhak Zilberstein of Bnei Brak adds that even according to the man's initial approach of weighing the mitzvot involved, it is clear that the mitzvot which required the power of speech are performed much more regularly than those which are associated with the ability to eat and would therefore take precedence.

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The Mishnah (Avot 5:1) teaches that God created the world with 10 utterances. However, a count of them yields only nine. What was the tenth utterance?

The Vilna Gaon (Peninim MiShulchan HaGra) suggests that the tenth utterance was Genesis 1:29-30, where God said, "Behold, I have given to you (Adam) all herbage-yielding seed that is on the surface of the entire earth, and every tree that has seed-yielding fruit; it shall be yours for food. And to every beast of the earth, to every bird of the sky, and to everything that moves on the earth within which there is a living soul, every green herb is for food," and so it was.

The Gaon explains that although God had previously created plants and fruits, they didn't yet possess the capacity to nourish those who consume them, and it was this ability that God gave through this utterance.

Rabbi Aharon Kotler adds that this explains why this statement ends with the words "Vayehi chen" - and it was so - which is found after the other nine utterances of Creation.

This explanation also sheds light on the verse (Deut. 8:3) which teaches that man does not live by bread alone, but rather by everything that emanates from the mouth of God - which can now be read as saying that bread itself doesn't inherently possess the capacity to sustain man, but is only able to do so after God's utterance.

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After Adam and Chava ate from the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge, their eyes were opened and they realized that they were naked (Genesis 3:7). After God meted out their punishments and curses for eating from the forbidden fruit, He made garments of leather for them to wear. Why did God specifically make them out of leather?

The Rogatchover Gaon answers based on the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 223:3) that a person who buys or acquires a valuable new garment must say the She'hecheyanu blessing thanking God for his new possession. As such, Adam and Chava would be obligated to recite this blessing upon receiving from God the new garments that He made for them. However, the law is that this blessing must be recited immediately upon acquiring the new item, while the joy that it brings to its receiver is still fresh and at its maximum.

As such, God had a dilemma, as at the moment that He gave Adam and Chava their new garments, they would be required to make a blessing, yet they were naked and a naked person is forbidden to say blessings. However, the prevalent custom (Orach Chaim 223:6) is not to say this blessing on garments made from animals. Therefore, God specifically made the clothing out of leather so that the naked Adam and Chava would be exempt from reciting the blessing.


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