Too many creeping insects (Daf Yomi Pesachim 15)

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“The result will be significant financial loss.”

When the coronavirus numbers were relatively low this past summer, I took advantage of the window of opportunity to visit my mother in Philadelphia. I was horrified to find that the city was infested with spotted lanternflies, which were everywhere I walked. The sidewalks, trees in the park, entryway to my mother’s building, were covered with these spotted creeping insects. They represented for me all the disease and impurity in the world.

The spotted lanternfly is indigenous to Southern China and is especially fond of the tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima or Chinese Sumac) which has been imported here from that country. This pest destroys trees and fruit crops and there are concerns that if it found its way to California, the wine crop would be threatened. The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture advises to do whatever you can to eradicate this insect, including killing by squashing and smashing. The spotted lanternfly is truly horrifying in its ability to multiply so quickly, and if you see one you will probably see one hundred.

Today’s Daf Yomi continues the discussion from yesterday on impurity. We learned that there is a hierarchy of impurity, with creeping animals on the top rung of contamination. The pesty spotted lanternfly would definitely find a home there. The state of California is under siege from natural disasters and the pandemic, and if this pest found its way to the state, perhaps by hitching a ride on the wheels of a big rig from Pennsylvania, its wine crop would be in serious jeopardy.

Today we learn of another type of financial ruin in the Daf Yomi portion that could beset the production of wine. If a barrel of teruma wine, or wine put aside as an offering to priests, breaks in the upper area of the winepress, there could be a mixing of the sacred and non-sacred wine. This could render the teruma wine ritually impure and lead to “significant financial loss, as the legal status of all the wine in the lower press will be that of impure teruma, which is prohibited even for priests to drink.”

Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua advise in this instance that one should try to rescue the teruma wine and siphon it into a vessel in order to preserve its state of purity. If the only vessel that is available is already impure, then we are told that one should just let the wine “descend and become impure on its own” and should “not actively render it impure with his hand.” 

Rabbi Yehoshua takes a more practical solution and says that since the wine is essentially contaminated, one might as well render it impure by using his hands to try to salvage it. We are told that there “is no objection to rendering the teruma impure preemptively in order to prevent greater financial loss.” Presumably, the wine is no longer suitable for the purpose of offering it to a priest, but it still may be able to be sold and consumed by the general population.

The discussion today continues with an analysis of burning pure and impure leaven together. We learned yesterday that there is a difference of opinion on the matter and the Rabbis will probably debate the topic for all eternity. But what about those trees of heaven that are being destroyed by the spotted lanternfly? They are hearty trees that are known to be resilient and grow likes weeds in harsh urban conditions.  Betty Smith writes in her novel “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” that the tree “would be considered beautiful except that there are too many of it.”  

And like the tree of heaven and the Chinese lanternfly, there is too much virus circulating right now in our communities.  This is a time to step into the period of abeyance, like the fifth hour we have read about, and hold tight until the magical sixth hour, when we can get rid of the creeping threat among us. If only today we could burn away all the virus in the world like leaven on Passover Eve. And at the same time, eradicate the pesty lanternfly.

About the Author
Penny Cagan was born in New Jersey and has lived in New York City since 1980. She has published two books of poems called “City Poems “ and “And Today I am Happy." She is employed as a risk manager and continues to write poetry. More information on Penny can be found at
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