A Dietary Limitation for Ark-bound Animal

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by R. Moshe Kurtz

Lomdus on the Parsha: Noach

“A Dietary Limitation for Ark-bound Animals”

Based on the acclaimed sefer Chavatzeles HaSharon

Q: Which dietary restriction did Noach have to account for on the Ark?

For your part, take of everything that is eaten and store it away, to serve as food for you and for them.” (Genesis 6:21)

While Noach likely did not need to create a menu that accommodated dietary sensitivities that ensured that everything was gluten-free and peanut-free., Hashem did impose a particular halachic limitation. The Talmud in Bechoros (9b) teaches the following: 

And Rabbi Asi says that Rabbi Yoḥanan says: What is the reason for the opinion of Rabbi Shimon that an item from which deriving benefit is prohibited is not susceptible to the impurity of food? It is as it is written: “All food therein that may be eaten [ha’ochel asher ye’achel], that on which water comes, shall be impure” (Lev. 11:34). The use of the Hebrew root alef, chaf, lamed twice in this phrase indicates that specifically food that you are able to feed to others, i.e., gentiles, is called food with regard to susceptibility to the impurity of food. But food that you are not able to feed to others is not called food. 

In the above Talmudic passage, R. Shimon infers from our verse that only that which may be fed to others can be halachically classified as food. Therefore, something that is generally non-kosher i.e. legally inedible for a Jew, but is permissible to be given to a non-Jew, would still constitute food. Whereas, something which falls into the category of issurei hana’ah – food that one is even forbidden to benefit from categorically does not reach the definitional threshold of food for ritual impurity and other halachic purposes. A common example of this distinction manifests itself in the prohibitive mixture of meat and milk: Not only is a Jew forbidden to eat meat and milk together, but he is forbidden to cook and even derive benefit from it. That means that in addition to not consuming meat and milk together, a Jew may not even sell it to a non-Jew, since he would derive benefit from the transaction (see Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 87:1). 

Based on R. Shimon’s interpretation of our verse, Meshech Chochmah (Gen. 6:21) understands that God was instructing Noach that he may only feed the animals with that which was halachically recognized food. Thus, God was in effect forbidding Noach from using anything that was assur b’hana’ah, forbidden to derive benefit from. 

However, we may ask: If the animals on the Ark were not Noach’s pets, what kind of benefit would he derive by feeding them food which is assur b’hana’ah? Now we might suggest that Noach would indeed have derived benefit from such food since he would be utilizing it to discharge his religious mandate to feed the animals on the Ark. The issue we would run into is that the Talmud in multiple places (e.g. Rosh Hashanah 28a) teaches us an important concept – mitzvos lav l’hanos nitnu, Divine commandments were not given for our personal benefit and enjoyment. This principle means that there should be no issue with using something that is assur b’hanah, forbidden to derive personal benefit, since the fulfillment of Divine commandments are by definition for the sake of God and not the human actor. Thus, Noach should have been permitted to feed the animals even with isurei hana’ah, since the fulfillment of this mitzvah was fundamentally not for his own gratification. 

The answer to this question may depend on how we distinguish between a mitzvah performed by a Jew versus a non-Jew. The Talmud in Bava Kamma (38a) initially posits that since the non-Jewish nations failed to observe even the seven Noahide Laws, God revoked their commandment altogether. However, the Talmud challenges this: Why should the non-Jewish nations profit from neglecting their commandments by becoming exempt from the consequences? 

The Sages said in response: Rav Yosef meant that they do not receive the reward as does one who is commanded to perform a mitzvah and performs it, but as does one who is not commanded to perform a mitzvah and performs it anyway. As Rabbi Ḥanina says: One who is commanded and performs a mitzvah is greater than one who is not commanded and performs it.

There is more than just a numerical difference between the 613 commandments incumbent upon Jews versus the seven Noahide Laws. The latter laws were commanded so that general society could learn to act with basic etiquette, for the sake of the public. Whereas, when a Jew fulfills one of the 613 commandments he achieves an additional goal of demonstrating his submission to the will of the Divine. Thus, a Jew and non-Jew can physically perform the same mitzvah, yet the Jew is receives reward as one who is metzuveh v’oseh: (A) for performing an objectively positive deed and (B) for submitting his will to the Divine. However, the non-Jew only receives reward for (A) performing an objectively positive deed, since by their neglect of the Seven Noahide Laws they lost their identity of servants to God. 

We can now understand why Noach could not claim mitzvos lav l’hanos nitnu i.e. that he should be permitted to feed the animals with food forbidden for personal benefit since Divine commandments are categorically an act of submission to God. Since the non-Jewish nations’ commandments are not classified as acts of religious servitude, Noach would have been considered to be using issurei hana’ah for his personal benefit, despite doing so in order to follow God’s orders.

Perhaps an important lesson for us as Jews is that we should remember that we do not only observe the Torah for the objective benefits; Each mitzvah is a further demonstration of submitting our will to Hashem – regardless of the benefit that we may or may not readily perceive. Serving God for God’s sake is an end to itself. 

Note: This series is not intended to dispense practical halachic conclusions. The Torah presented here is but a small extraction from the breadth of the the sefer Chavatzeles HaSharon and is not affiliated with the author in any official capacity. Translations are adapted from Sefaria, Chabad.org, Mechon Mamre, and my own. Contact: [email protected] 

About Moshe Kurtz

Rabbi Moshe Kurtz is Assistant Rabbi at Congregation Agudath Sholom of Stamford, CT. He welcomes questions, feedback and speaking requests at: [email protected].

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