Thursday, October 29, 2015

A Complicated Sheep

A few weeks ago I discussed the identity of the ram that appears in the story of akeidas Yitzchak (Genesis 22:13). I suggested that it wouldn't have been an ordinary domestic sheep, since Avraham was out in the wilderness. Furthermore, as my friend David Bar-Cohn pointed out, Avraham would presumably not have stolen someone's sheep! Thus, it would have been a wild variety of sheep - possibly the aoudad, but more likely the mouflon.

However, I subsequently discovered that matters are a little more complicated. A number of commentaries discuss the question of how Avraham could have simply taken a sheep that might have belonged to somebody. Chizkuni, Seforno and Bechor Shor say that this is the meaning of the curious word אחר appearing in the phrase והנה איל אחר נאחז בסבך בקרניו. They explain that it means "subsequently." Avraham saw the ram roaming around, but did not take it, out of concern that it belonged to somebody; subsequently, when he saw it get trapped by its horns, he understood this odd occurrence as a sign that he should bring it as an offering. (See too Netziv, Haamek Davar, for a slight variation on this.)

R. Yisrael Lifschitz also addresses the ownership of the ram in his Tiferes Yisrael commentary to Mishnah Avos 5:6. The Mishnah there describes this ram as one of things created at the end of the week of Creation. R. Lifschitz states that this does not mean that Avraham's ram was created thousands of years earlier, but rather that his ram was a descendant of that primordial ram. He explains that this is in order to avoid the problem of Avraham taking somebody else's ram - it had to be a descendant of the primordial ram that had always been ownerless.

The common theme with all these commentaries is that none of them suggest that it was a wild ram (i.e.a mouflon), not a domestic ram! Why not?

Could it be that these commentaries were unaware of mouflons? Possibly, though that does not seem likely. I think that there are two other possible answers.

One is that perhaps the word ayil itself denotes a domestic ram. It is true that the English word ram is equally applicable to the males of wild sheep such as mouflons, but that does not need to be the case with the Hebrew word.

Another answer is that a mouflon is ruled out because a wild animal cannot be brought as on offering. Without getting into the ever-popular topic about whether the forefathers actually observed all the mitvos (a topic about which I am currently preparing an extensive analysis for the Rationalist Judaism book), we see that Noah only brought offerings from domestic animals, and thus this is a pre-Sinaitic concept.

In any case, is it actually possible for a ram to get trapped by its horns? Yes it is! Here is an incredible video of a mouflon actually trapped by its horns in a thicket, exactly as described in the Torah! (Note for those reading this post via email subscription - as usual, you will have to visit www.RationalistJudaism.com in order to see the video.)

 
To learn more about mouflons in the Torah, see The Torah Encyclopedia of the Animal Kingdom!

14 comments:

  1. "we see that Noah only brought offerings from domestic animals, and thus this is a pre-Sinaitic concept"

    According to Ramban (Breishis 6:20) Noach brought sacrifices from all kosher animals, not just the ones that were brought in the Beis HaMikdash.

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    1. And Rashi says on this that Noah knew the Torah,

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  2. Can a domestic ram get caught by the horns?

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  3. Here's another thought. Did you see how fast that ram took off once it was freed? If Avraham's ram was one of these, then Avraham was a VERY fast runner.

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    1. Avraham just happened to have some rope with him that he had brought to bind Yitzchak. He could have secured the animal first, and then untangled it from the thicket.

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    2. Why? Before he freed it he made sure that he was holding it firmly.

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    3. Whereas other targumim translate ויקח (Genesis 22:13) as they do for the taking of a live object (ודבר), Targum Onkelos translates it as he would for an inanimate object (ונסיב), perhaps indicating the שחיטה happened prior to the untangling. (Heard from R. Shlomo Morgenstern)

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    4. Nah... it went like a sheep to the slaughter

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  4. To answer that he took the oddity of the event as a sign, seems weak. He's just had a conversation with God and angel of God (however we understand this have occurred) and sacrificing this found ram was never mentioned. He's now going to rely on a sign (possible nichush) to take a domesticated ram (possible theivery) and assume it's the will of God?

    There answer of the Tiferes Yisrael isn't particularly rational as all rams would have descended from the primordial ram. It begs the question, how did this ram remain ownerless while it's siblings were claimed as property. It also assumes there was one distinct primordial ram, (Evolution of species would suggest otherwise.)

    To say it was a wild ram is the most rational. Even according to the view that the Avot kept the Mitzvot, there are rercognized limitations and exceptions (e.g. Yaakov marrying to sisters.) and it doesn't seem to far a stretch that Avraham only brought sacrifices from animals that were "tahor" i.e. that had the requisite physical characteristics and did not distinguish between shepherd raised rams and wild rams.

    Finally to add my own explanation (a chiddush?): We can say it was a domesticated ram, and Avraham did at some conceptual level did observe the mitzvot. However, he had taken a three day journey into the wilderness and was nowhere near cattle grazing lands. This ram was lost property, and without any identifying signs (e.g. being branded) he was under no obligation to seek out the owner and could claim this lost property for himself in accordance with the laws of hoshavat aveidah.

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  5. On the subject of Ya'akov marrying sisters, I'm told there's an opinion (which I think is silly) that Rachel and Leah converted and thus were not halachically sisters.
    -Dov in MD

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    1. If you were even remotely familiar with Gemara and Halacha you would not think it is a "silly" opinion/answer. This is an explicit Halachic principle in The Gemara.

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  6. I cannot resist reporting a sharp remark that has a serious undertone even though it is primarily a witticism. The late Rav Shoel (sic) Dovid Margulies, the rabbi of the shul where I davened in Kew Gardens Hills and a talmid of the Lubliner Rov, reported a question and answer about the akedah. In light of Satan’s unrelenting efforts over a three-day period to prevent Abraham from bringing this divine command to fruition, how did the latter know that the angelic voice that told him to stop was really that of an angel of God? Perhaps this was Satan’s most brilliant stratagem? The answer is that this voice was associated with an ayil ne’echaz ba-sevakh, “un ayb s’volt geven a mayse Soton, volt dos gegangen glatik” (if it had been an act of Satan it would have gone smoothly).

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  7. Here's a video of a sheep getting caught, not by its horns but by its whole body, by brambles: http://m.wimp.com/carnivorous-bramble-traps-sheep/

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  8. Thanks for sharing this video, amazing!
    I would suggest perhaps as far as gezel is concerned, it could have been a domestic ram that was lost without simanim. It therfore became ownerless and was able to be taken. (since it would'nt have suvived had it not been freed, he had every right to keep it.)

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