It’s a bit ironic, but if you’re a pig, your biggest fear is people’s desire to “pig out”. On your own you can survive on almost anything; scraps, garbage, or leftovers. You’re not a picky eater, you can easily live on “junk food.” You’re tough and hardy, incredibly adaptable, and you can live just about anywhere. You are the ultimate survivor.
But when people want to pig out, you’re done. They will cut you up into neat little sections and eat every bit of you from snout to rump. Pork belly, ham, pickled pork feet, pork ears, pork tail, hocks, jowls, bacon, every bit of you is delicious, and they won’t stop until there’s not a bit left of you. If you’re a pig, your prognosis is pretty grim.
So what does a pig have to do to survive these days? There are few options. You can be as sweet and cuddly as possible and you might just get adopted as a pet. Pet pigs were popular in the 80’s, when they earned the name “yuppie puppy,” and were the pet of choice for people desperate to be different. But when George Clooney, Reese Witherspoon, and a few other celebrities recently acquired pet pigs, their esteem shot sky high. Today, some mini-breeds of pigs, also known as “teacup pigs” sell for up to five thousand dollars, and those pets will be treated quite well. But most pet pigs get too big too fast, their owners give them up, and they end up on someone’s dinner plate. Being a pet is not your best option.
A better option for you is to be a show pig. You will be given enormous attention, not by some daffy celebrity who will love you today and then leave you for a python or a chicken tomorrow, but by expert farmers who will raise you with meticulous care. You will be fed well, trained to walk properly, groomed frequently, and kept at peak physical health. But even Blue Ribbon pigs eventually start to sag and lose their form, and off to the chopping block they go, oh no!
The best option is to be an “oracle pig,” the kind of pig that can predict sports matches. As long as you can accurately predict a high percentage of sports game outcomes, you will be treated like gold. The competition is undoubtedly tough, as many other species of animal are also good at predicting sports games, but you just need to keep your focus. Do your research, understand the games and the players, and make those judicious calls as if your life depends on it, because it does!
Oracle animals are not new to the world. Over 800 years ago, throngs of crusaders in the Rhine valley followed a goose believed to be enchanted by JC. For hundreds of years, Native American tribes have reported following specific wolves or bears that they believe led them to safe places with plentiful hunting. But the Sports Oracle Animal is an invention of the modern age (actually, we don’t like to call them animals, we call them non-humans).
The most famous Non-Human Sports Oracle was Paul the Octopus. Born in Weymouth, England and raised in a zoo in Oberhausen, Germany, Paul achieved international fame after it was discovered that he could accurately predict the outcomes of soccer matches well in advance of the games. People would place two boxes in Paul’s tank, each box adorned with the flag of one of the countries playing in a match the next day. In each box was a mussel. While thousands of sports fans gathered outside his tank, and millions watched on live TV coverage, Paul would predict who would win, by choosing to eat the mussel from the winner’s box first.
During the 2008 Euro Games, Paul was still a bit of a novice, and he only was right four out of six times. But he hunkered down and really focused on all the important data, and by the 2010 World Cup he accurately predicted the result of all seven of Germany’s games! Paul also correctly selected a win for Spain against the Netherlands in the World Cup Final on July 11th by eating the mussel in the box with the Spanish flag on it! With a 100% accuracy rating on his World Cup predictions, Paul was the best sports commentator of 2010! Unfortunately, he died in October of 2010 just a few months after his moment in the sun. Rest In Peace Paul, Rest In Peace. You will never be forgotten.
2011 was a great year for Non-Human Oracles. In March, a rare two-headed five legged turtle named Magdalena (the larger head is Magda, the smaller Lena) was able to predict the outcome of a number of games in the ice hockey World Championship games in Slovakia. It’s owner would put it into a small scale hockey rink, and Magda (and Lena) would walk over to the side that was going to win. Later in the year, Heidi, an adorable cross eyed opossum from the Leipzig Zoo was able to accurately predict the Best Actor and Best Actress winners for the 2011 Oscar Awards. (She too died soon after, and the blogosphere lit up with sympathy and mourning as her millions of fans grieved her untimely passing).
Although some other animals have achieved oracle fame as of late, pigs have always been known to have great psychic ability and predicting skills. The government of the City of Kiev, which hosted the 2012 Euro Games, brought out Psychic Pig (as he’s appropriately called) every day at 4PM to announce the winners of the next day’s matches. Psychic Pig drank beer, ate French Fries, and grunted loudly as he chose the winners from the field of competitors.
And most recently, a six year old pig who goes by the stage name Mystic Marcus (his real name is just Marcus), has been picking the winners of soccer and tennis matches by eating the apple labeled with the winning team. His owners claim that he has not made a mistake since early 2016! To some people these pigs may appear to be nothing more than dumb hogs, but I see deeper than that. I see them as shrewd survivalists, working very hard to keep themselves off the dinner plate. Good Luck Psychic Pig, good luck Mystic Marcus, good luck Magda and Lena!
As Torah Jews, we don’t believe in oracle animals. The Torah forbids it directly in Leviticus (19:26) as it say, “You shall not act on the basis of omens or lucky hours.” Rashi quotes the Talmud’s interpretation of this verse as:
“~You shall not act on the basis of omens: like those who interpret the sounds or actions of a weasel or birds as omens for good or bad, or like those who interpret bread falling from his mouth or a deer crossing his path as signs for certain things
You shall not act on the basis of… lucky hours: The expression lucky hours denotes times and hours, that one would say, “Such and such a day is auspicious to begin your work,” or, “Such and such an hour is unlucky to embark on a journey.”
But what is it about the human psyche that attracts it to ridiculous things like oracle animals? How are people of any intelligence able to fall for such insanity as a two headed tortoise predicting outcomes for ice hockey matches? Why do millions of American wait to hear where the groundhog’s shadow lies when he pops out of his hole on February Second, a.k.a. Groundhog Day? Why do many athletes have “lucky shirts” or other items of clothing that they never wash and always wear? And why does the Torah forbid us from following these signs? If someone wants to be foolish enough to believe in octopus predictions, why does G-d care to warn them not to?
Sefer Hachinuch, an anonymous 13th century work that goes through all 613 commandments systemically, explains that believing in omens takes one away from believing in the true Power that controls our world. As human beings, we understand that there is something beyond our ken that is controlling things. The world is too full of mystery, complexity, and controlled chaos for it to be totally random. In our great search for answers, we cling to anything that seems to have access to the mysterious world, whether it be an animal that appears to be predicting sports games, the shadow of a groundhog on a particular day, or a piece of clothing that seems to increase our chances of winning.
Being satisfied with any of these omens, or attributing any reality to them is selling ourselves short. They are not the source of any of the controlled chaos, they have no ability to affect the world, and their actions are meaningless. But when we focus on them, it takes us away from where our search will otherwise lead us, which is back to G-d the one Being that does control the world, and everything in it (besides our free will)!
So while millions around the world tune in to Psychic Pig’s predictions, to the groundhog of Punxsutawney, or any other oracle animals that might arise, we confidently trust in G-d, and use Him as our sole conduit to the great mystery and complexity of life!
Parsha Dvar Torah
Last week’s Torah portion described the census that was taken of the tribe of Levi, starting with those 1 month and older. This week’s parsha continues with another census of the members of the tribe of Levi, this one only of males between the ages of 30-50. In both countings, we find a surprisingly low number: 22,273 in last week’s portion, 8,580 in this week’s – far fewer in number than any other tribe.
What makes this even stranger is the fact that Levi was the only tribe that was not forced into labor in Egypt. The Medrash records that the slave labor in Egypt was started by a massive public works campaign, one in which Pharaoh himself participated. But soon afterwards, the Egyptians slipped away and forced the Jews to remain. The tribe of Levi, who were preoccupied with Torah study, never joined the labor, and were thus never forced to remain. Knowing this, one would think that they should have been the largest tribe.
Nachmonides explains that it was precisely the fact that they were not subjugated that led to their small numbers. He explains that G-d gave a special blessing to the Jewish people that the “the more they oppressed them, the more they multiplied, and so did they gain strength” (Exodus 1:12). Thus it was the tribes that were oppressed that grew with prodigious blessing, while the tribe of Levi only grew at a normal rate, and consequently had the comparatively lower numbers they had. Oppression, though something few would welcome, can sometimes be the harbinger of special blessing.
This message is reinforced in a verse in Psalms. The Psalmist praises G-d by saying, “He covers the heavens with clouds, He prepares rain for the land,” (Psalms 147:8). Rav Tzadok HaCohen explains that we often go through difficult times – times in which the horizon appears dark and cloudy – but what is really happening is that G-d is preparing for an outpouring of rain, and blessing. We see this in the germination of seeds, as well, the process that allows for all life on earth. At first, the seed disintegrates, seemingly beaten to nothingness. But then a new life sprouts forth. G-d’s miraculous nature has a way of showing us the light when all we can see is darkness.
A friend shared the following slice of life that underscores this point. Growing up, he had two classmates who were stepbrothers. The mother of one was a divorcee who married a successful attorney who had two children of his own. The woman indulged her child, taking care of all his expenses, providing him with a nice car, and not requiring him to work. The father, who achieved his success through hard work, treated his children much differently. He made them work hard for everything they received. That classmate constantly worked odd jobs, earning low wages in order to buy the things he wanted.
Ironically, the indulged son of the woman is today a baggage handler in a local airport. The husband’s son is a world renowned psychiatrist, who has published dozens of articles, written two books, and is frequently featured on CNN. The hard work, the stress, and the difficulty he went through as a teen certainly paid off. In a similar vein, people with physical handicaps, or who have undergone a serious illness, surprisingly tend to score much higher than others on tests that measure levels of happiness.
Many people are facing new challenges today, due to the economic climate and the market meltdown. This week’s counting of the tribe of Levi gives us a perspective that may help us see the silver lining behind those challenges. That silver lining may come in the form of some bountiful rain about to be showered upon them, or it may come in the form of us developing a deeper appreciation for our family, our health, or other aspects of our life that we may have neglected to appreciate.
This week’s Parsha starts off where the the last Parsha finished, namely, the jobs given to different families within the tribe of Levi. Here, the Torah describes the parts of the Tabernacle that the families of Gershon and Merari carried when the Jews moved from place to place in the Desert.
The Torah then commands us to treat our camp with holiness. In order to do so, people with specific levels of ritual impurity are not allowed into different parts of the camp based on the severity of their impurity. (It is interesting to note that the only group that has to leave the entire camp and sit alone is the people who contracted Tzara’as through speaking badly about others and alienating them. What goes around comes around!) After that, the Torah tells us what to do if someone steals, swears falsely to deny it, and then admits. OK, I won’t keep you in suspense; he pays an extra fifth and brings a special sacrifice for atonement. If the victim dies and leaves no heirs, the money goes to the Kohanim.
The next law discussed, is that of the Sotah. This is a wayward woman, who secludes herself with a specific man, despite having been warned not to do so by her husband. In order to determine if she committed a sin while in seclusion, she is brought to the Temple where a procedure is done to determine if she is as innocent as she professes to be. (If, at any point, she admits to being guilty, she goes home without doing the procedure.) The procedure includes a Kohen reading her the passage regarding the Sotah, and dissolving the parchment into water. She then drinks the mixture after bringing a meal offering. If she is guilty, she immediately dies a difficult death, (as does the adulterer wherever he is at the time), but if she is innocent, she is rewarded with an easier birthing in the future, and great children. (Even though she shouldn’t have secluded herself with someone her husband asked her not to, since the procedure was a difficult one she is rewarded for being innocent.)
The parchment which was dissolved contains G-d’s name. If G-d considers marital harmony to be of such import that he allows His name to be erased (for if the wife lives past this procedure, the husband will be placated and no longer think that she betrayed him), how much more should we be willing to go out of our way to keep our marriages peaceful even if it occasionally costs us a bruised ego. After these laws, the Torah discusses the nazir, whom we discussed above. The two are juxtaposed because when one sees the sotah in her degradation, he should be inspired to take measures to insure that he never fall in that way.
After the laws of the nazir, the Torah tells the Kohanim how to bless the people, a practice still done daily in Israel and on the festivals here in the Diaspora. The final art of the Parsha deals with special offerings the leaders of the Twelve Tribes brought to inaugurate the Tabernacle. The first thing they brought was six sturdy wagons and twelve oxen to pull them. These were to be used in the transportation of the Tabernacle, and were divided amongst the tribe of Levi.
The Kehas family didn’t get any wagons, because their job was to carry the holiest vessels and it would be inappropriate for them to relegate such vessels to wagons. In addition to the wagons, the tribal leaders each brought a number of sacrifices during the first twelve days that the Tabernacle was in service. Although the Torah never uses an extra word, in our Parsha, it spends over seventy verses repeating the sacrifices that the leaders brought even thought they were exactly identical. The Torah is telling us that although on the outside the sacrifices were the same, each leader had unique intentions and meaning in his sacrifice, thus making them different. This underscores the idea that even though we may all pray the same prayers, and do the same mitzvoth, each one of us can have an incredibly unique and individual relationship with G-d based on our intentions and thoughts. Let us all continue to develop that relationship, and grow closer with our Father in heaven!
Quote of the Week: Plan for this world as if you expect to live forever, plan for the hereafter as if you expect to die tomorrow. – Ibn Gabirol
Random Fact of the Week: Wood frogs freeze solid in the winter, and then thaw back to life in the spring.
Funny Line of the Week: Money may not buy you happiness, but I would rather cry in a Jaguar than on a public bus.
Have a Chic Shabbos,
R’ Leiby Burnham