Blogs

The Elephant, the Monkey and the Owl

Sponsored by Malca Bassan in memory of her mother, Sara bat Malca Of Blessed Memory.

Parsha Halacha/Parshat Va’eira

Laws of the Blessing on Unusual Animal
For a printable version click here
The fourth plague that G-d visited upon the Egyptian people was that of arov, normally translated as wild beasts (see below). G-d told Moshe to inform Pharaoh, “And I will separate on that day the land of Goshen, upon which My people stand, that there will be no mixture of wild beasts there, in order that you know that I am the L-rd in the midst of the earth.”[1] This means that, although naturally wild beasts spread out over large areas, G-d performed a special miracle to protect the Jewish people and ensured that none of the animals entered the area where they lived.
The Midrash[2] goes so far as to suggest that the Jewish people may have even deserved some of the punishment meted out to the Egyptians in this plague but that, despite this, G-d spared them. This is the meaning of the verse, “And I will bring about a salvation which will set apart My people and your people.” The implication is, were it not for G-d’s redemption from the plague, the Jews would have suffered, too.
Lessons from the Plague
According to the commentaries,[3] the plagues of wild beasts, pestilence, and boils were supposed to teach Pharaoh and the Egyptians about G-d’s intimate knowledge of all matters in this world. This should have been evident to them based on the fact that these plagues should naturally have affected both the Jews and the Egyptians. Regarding pestilence and boils, since these are (presumably) caused by viruses, it is highly unusual that it would affect only the Egyptians and their animals and not the Jews and their animals.
Arov: Wild Beasts, Wolves or Flying Pests?
The standard translation of arov is wild beasts.[4] The word arov/ערובis similar to the word irbuv/ערבוב which means mixture, i.e., a mixture of various types of (wild) animals. There are, however, two other ways (that I know of) to translate this word:
  • The Rashbam says that arov means wolves.[5] The word arov/ ערוב is similar to erev/ערב which means evening. Wolves are called by this name since they usually hunt at night.
  • According to one opinion in the Midrash,[6] arov means birds and flying insects. Perhaps this is based on the fact that arov/ערובis similar to the word orev/עורב which means raven. Since arov can also be understood to mean mixture, it can be understood to signify a mixture of ravens and other bothersome flying creatures.
  • Some say that arov includes both land animals and flying creatures.[7]
The rest of this halacha will address the laws of reciting blessings when seeing certain animals.
Pil, Kof and Kipuf
The Talmud says[8] that one who sees a pil (elephant), kof (monkey) or a kipuf (see below) should make the bracha (blessing) of meshaneh habriyot (Who changes the form of the creatures). This bracha should also be recited when seeing a person with an unusual condition.
For example,
  • Someone born with unusually red skin. (This may be the condition called rosacea.)
  • An albino
    • The Talmud also lists a kushi – a person with black skin. Since this is no longer an unusual sight, no blessing is recited today.[9] Some say[10] that it’s referring to a person whose parents were white but who was born with black skin.[11]
  • An unusually tall and thin person. Presumably this is referring to one who has gigantism.  If a person is very tall but his body weight is proportional with his height, the bracha should not be recited. In fact, some say that the blessing of Shekacha lo be’olamo (Who has such in His world) should be recited, giving praise to G-d for creating such a healthy specimen.[12]
  • A dwarf
  • A person born with a large belly that makes him appear to be short (comparing his height to his girth). This may be referring to the condition called diastasis recti.
  • One born with (extreme) warts
  • A person whose hair is fused together from birth.
  • Conjoined twins (Siamese)[13]
  • Any person with an extremely unusual birth defect.[14]
The purpose of saying this blessing is to acknowledge that G-d, in His wisdom, created some animals and some people with unusual features or characteristics.
The bracha can be made whether the person with these defects is Jewish or not (lehavdil).[15]Some say that the bracha should only be recited when seeing a Jewish person whom one is saddened to see with such a condition.[16]
How Often?
Some say[17] that if, after saying the bracha on one of the above-mentioned people or animals, they see another person with the same condition or the same type of animal again 30 days or more later, they may recite the bracha again. Others say[18] that one may only say this bracha once in his lifetime, on each particular type of birth defect or animal, i.e., the first time one sees an elephant, the first time one sees a monkey, the first time one sees a dwarf, etc. In practice, most authorities agree[19] that one should say the bracha (on each species) only once in their lives. It is recommended, however, that when seeing the same species after 30 days, one should repeat the bracha without uttering the name of G-d, i.e., Baruch Meshaneh HaBeriyot (Blessed is He who changes the form of the creatures).[20]
Other Unusual Animals
Some say that the bracha of Meshane HaBeriyot may be recited when seeing any unusual animal, e.g., a giraffe or a kangaroo, and that the Talmud listed the elephant, monkey etc. only as examples.[21] Others say that the bracha should be recited only when seeing the specific animals mentioned in the Talmud as they are considered extremely unusual.[22] As to why these animals are considered more unusual than others, several interpretations are offered:
  • Monkeys are similar to human beings in many respects. Some consider the monkey a “bridge species” between animal kind and humankind.[23] In fact, some say that G-d punished (some of) the people of the generation of the flood for behaving in a depraved manner and turned them into monkeys.[24]
    • It is possible that gorillas are also included in the word kof. They certainly have many human traits, even more so than monkeys.
  • Elephants are extremely intelligent and have tremendous strength.[25] Some say, that elephants too, have certain human characteristics.[26]
Defining the Kipuf
The third animal species listed in the above-mentioned section of the Talmud is the Kipuf. The commentaries offer different translations of this word. Here are the opinions that I have found:
  • An owl.[27]
    • o   Rashi says that owls have cheeks that resemble those of human beings. Perhaps this means that an owl’s face is not narrow like that of most birds which have eyes on the sides of their heads. Rather, the faces of owls are (nearly) flat like that of a human being whose eyes both face forward.[28]
    • An animal that is similar to a monkey. Perhaps a marten.[29]
    • A bat.[30]
    • A meerkat.[31]
As mentioned above, several commentaries say that the elephant, monkey and kipuf have some human characteristics. This can be understood according to the opinions that it is a marten or meerkat which resemble a monkey and according to the opinion that it is an owl whose face resembles a human face. I’m not sure how this can be understood according to the opinion that it is a bat.[32]
When the Shulchan Aruch lists the animals for which we say the bracha of Meshaneh Habriyot,[33] it does not include the kipuf.[34] It has been suggested that since we don’t know the exact identity of this animal, it is best not to say the blessing on any animal as one should not say a bracha when in doubt. This may be the reason the Shulchan Aruch doesn’t mention this animal.[35]
May We Merit to Discover and Appreciate the Wonders of G-d’s Creations

[1] Exodus, 8:18
[2] Shemot Rabbah, 11:2 as explained by the Chidushei HaRadal
[3] See Akeidat Yitzchak, Parshat Va’eira, page 36 and on
[4] See Rashi and other commentaries
[5] See Jeremiah, 5:6 “The wolves of the evening will plunder them.” And Tzefaniah 3:3 “Wolves of the evening… did not leave over the bones for morning.”
[6] Shemot Rabbah 11:3 and Rav Nechemiah in Yalkut Shimoni on Tehillin 78 D.H. Yeshalach
[7] The sages in Yalkut Shimoni ibid
[8] Brachot 58b. See O.C. 224:8
[9] Chayei Adam, Klal 63, Se’if 1
[10] Kaf HaChaim, 225:50
[12] Kaf HaChaim, 225:53. This blessing is recited whenever one sees something particularly beautiful in nature (O.C. 225:10). But see Mishnah Berurah (32) that it is no longer customary to recite this blessing. One may recite it without pronouncing G-d’s name (Baruch Shekacha lo be’olamo).
[13] Responsa Shevut Ya’akov,vol. 1, 4
[14] See Brachot ibid and O.C. ibid that this bracha is only recited on people born with these conditions. Whereas if one sees a person with an unusual condition that started later in life, a different bracha is said – Dayan Ha’emet, Blessed is… the true Judge.
[15] Mishnah Berurah, 225:27
[16] Birkei Yosef, 225:9 based on the opinions of the Ra’avad, Avudraham and Bait Yosef
[17] Rama, 225:9
[18] Shulchan Aruch, ibid, based on the opinion of the Ra’avad
[19] Seder Birchot HeNehenin (by the Alter Rebbe) 13:13, Mishnah Berurah, 30. But see Orchot Rabeinu vol. 3 page 224 that the Chazon Ish ruled that one may make the bracha every 30 days.
[20] Mishnah Berurah, ibid
[21] Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach in Halichot Shlomo, Tefilah, page 290
[22] Implication of the Prisha on the Tur, O.C. 225:6 and the Mor Uketzi’ah, 225, D.H. Sham Beviet Yosef Umah Shekatav Beshem HaRa’avad.
[23] Akeidat Yitzchak, Bereishit, Sha’ar 6, page 66a
[24] See Melechet Shlomo on Mishnah Kilayim, 8:6 and Shleima Mishnato (Warsaw, 5655) on Brachot, 57b
[25] Mor Uktzi’ah, ibid
[27] Rashi D.H. Kipuf, Brachot 58b
[28] See Niddah 33a
[29] This is how Rashi translates Kipod, on Brachot 57b. According to Tosfot (Niddah 23a D.H. Karya Vekipufa), the correct version of the text should be Kipuf and it means some kind of wild animal.
[30] Tosfot (ibid) says that one of the translations of “Kipuf” is the bird called “tinshemet.” Rashi (on Levit. 11:18) translates “tinshemet” as a bat.
[31] Rashi on Bechorot, 8a, D.H. Kipuf says that it is an animal similar to a monkey with a tail. In German it is called Merkatza. I’m guessing this is a meerkat (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meerkat)
[32] Although it is the only flying mammal, I’m not sure that this is enough to make it similar to a human being. See http://www.newser.com/story/205994/bats-are-like-humans-in-one-remarkable-way.html
[33] O.C. 225:8
[34] The Ketzot HaShulchan (66, Badei HaShulchan 15) points out this omission.
[35] Rabbi Yaakov Kamintezky cited in the Dirshu Mishna Berurah, 225:27 and Rav Ovadiah Yosef in Halacha Berura, vol 11, Siman 225:50
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom an a Chodesh Tov!


Aryeh Citron

Have your say