In which is
- the question of the gemora about whether it is permissible to write tefillin on the skin of a kosher fish.
- the reason why the skin was stripped from the primeval serpent.
It is written in the laws of Bris Milah, Yorah Deah, Siman 265:10 that one should put the foreskin in some dirt or sand. The Beis Yosef writes several reasons for this, the first being that when Yisrael performed Bris Milah in the wilderness, they took the foreskin and buried it in the ground. (See the chapter about Pidyon HaBen, where there is a discussion about whether or not they performed Bris Milah in the wilderness). And the Shelah HaKodosh writes that the reason is because the foreskin is from the spiritual impurity of the primeval serpent, and the serpent's food is dirt.
And since we are on the subject of the necessity to decompose and purify the impurity of the serpent in the earth, let us say something about it in order to resolve an astonishing gemora in Masechta Shabbos 108, which says: Mar the son of Ravina asked Rav Nachman bar R. Yitzchok if it is permissible to write tefillin on the skin of a kosher fish. He replied to him: If Eliyohu will come and say whether the impurity has ceased from it or has not ceased from it.
There are several questions that can be asked about his strange response "if Eliyohu will come and say..." - he should have replied that it depends on whether or not there is impurity in the skin of the fish. But his mention of the cessation of the impurity implies that there is definitely impurity in the skin, and the question is only whether it has ceased or not. And why did he make the matter depend on Eliyohu? Also, instead of saying "ceased from it", he should have said explicitly - "ceased from the fish".
The simple understanding of the gemora is that the question about the impurity is referring to the fish. But it seems to me, by way of drush, that the explanation is "if Eliyohu will come and and say whether the impurity has ceased from him" - from Eliyohu, and from this information we will be able to resolve the question about the permissibility of writing tefillin on the skin of fish, as I will explain.
Now, it says in the gemora that when the serpent came upon Chava (Eve) he put into her spiritual impurity. Later, when Yisrael stood at Mount Sinai, this impurity ceased from them, but when they subsequently sinned with the golden calf it came back. Because of this impurity, a person needs to be buried in the earth, in order that his flesh will be consumed and the impurity will be purified by the earth. This is because it is written (Yeshayohu 65,25) "and a serpent, dirt shall be its food", that is, because of the impurity which came from the serpent, dirt needs to be his food - to purify him through the earth.
But there is another opinion, which holds that the impurity of a person did not come from the serpent, because the serpent did not come upon Chava. As the sefer Peli'ah, which is brought in the Yalkut Reuveni, asks: If it's true that the serpent came upon Chava, why was the law of the Torah, which says to kill the beast which has relations with a human, not fulfilled? This opinion holds that the impurity came from the eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, which was good and evil, and from the evil portion the impurity came into being, and the body needs to be purified from that evil.
And it seems to me that there is a practical difference between these two opinions, and that is, whether the purification of the body needs to be done specifically through the element of earth, or by something else, for example through the element of fire. Because if we say that the impurity came about through the serpent having relations with Chava, then the purification must be done specifically with earth, because "a serpent, dirt is its food". But if the impurity came about through the eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, then it is not necessary that the purification should be done specifically with earth, and it is possible that he can be purified through something else, for example, through the element of fire.
Now, it is brought in the Yalkut on the posuk (Bereishis 3,21) "Hashem made for Adam and for his wife garments of skin" - from where was the skin? From the skin of the serpent whose skin was stripped off. Behold, many commentaries had difficulty with this - in order to clothe Adam the skin was stripped off the serpent? Surely this is unjust, G-d forbid! However, it seems to me that we can answer both this difficulty and the difficulty of the sefer Peli'ah, according to the established halachah that an animal which has had its skin removed is considered a trefah - an animal which will die within a short time - since an animal cannot continue to live without its skin.
Therefore, it seems to me that if the serpent came upon Chava, it was necessary to fulfil the law that the animal must be killed as the sefer Peli'ah pointed out, and so its skin was removed and thus it could not continue to live, and this was the fulfillment of the law to kill it. And if so, after its skin was removed for the above reason, it was made into garments for Adam HaRishon. (See what I wrote in the first part of the second chapter on Pesach concerning the garments being made from the skin of the serpent). Therefore, if we say that that the garments were made from the skin of the serpent, this would prove that the serpent came upon Chava and so prove that the impurity came from the serpent.
But the Yalkut Reuveni brings a Midrash that the garments were made from the skin of the Leviathan, whose skin was removed when it was preserved for the future, for the Tzaddikim, by salting it. According to this, there is no proof that the serpent came upon Chava and put into her impurity, and we can instead say that the impurity came from eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge.
Now, it says in the Zohar that the "garments of skin" are tefillin, and so if we say that they came from the skin of the Leviathan, this proves that one can write tefillin on the skin of a kosher fish. But if we say that they came from the skin of the serpent, then perforce we cannot say like the opinion of the Zohar that they were tefillin, because everone agrees that tefillin can only be written on the skin of a kosher animal.
So now we can understand the gemora that we started with, in which Mar the son of Ravina asked: Is it permissible to write tefillin on the skin of a kosher fish? His query was based on the question about which skin the garments of Adam HaRishon were made from. If we say that they were from the skin of the Leviathan, then we can answer the question in the positive. But perhaps they were from the skin of the serpent. Therefore, Rav Nachman responded that I cannot resolve this question about the garments until Eliyohu comes and tells us whether the impurity has ceased from him, even though he was not buried in the earth, but rather he was purified by the whirlwinds of the heavens, through fire. If so, this will prove that the impurity did not come about because of the serpent, because in truth the serpent did not come upon Chava, and so was not liable to be put to death by having its skin removed. Nor can we say that its skin was removed in order to make garments for Adam HaRishon, because this would be unjust. If so, this would prove that the garments were made from the skin of the Leviathan, and so we would have proven that we can write tefillin on the skin of a kosher fish.
With this we can understand better the words of the gemora, "if Eliyohu will come and say if the impurity has ceased from him". He is saying: Can you have any doubt about this? He became like a holy angel, amd so without question impurity ceased from him, the purification being achieved through the element of fire. If so, we can learn from this that we can write tefillin on the skin of a kosher fish. (If I have erred in this explanation, with me lies the blame, and may Hashem, the benevolent, forgive me).