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13 Kislev 5766 - December 14, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
Vampire Spiders, Hashem's Chesed and Earning a Livelihood

by Rabbi Nosson Grossman

Modern scientific research continuously reveals marvels of Hashem's Creation. A new research study partly funded by the National Geographic Society, reviewed in the National Geographic Magazine of Oct. 11, 2005 and published in detail in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, presents us with an additional glimpse into the miraculous wisdom displayed in every detail of nature, and how HaKodosh Boruch Hu provides for every one of His creatures, "from the huge re'em to tiny lice" (Avodoh Zorah 3b).

This recent research study presents astonishing news about the dining choices of the Eastern African Evarcha culicivora. "Like Count Dracula and his real-life vampire bat counterparts, this small jumping spider has a taste for blood," writes Jennifer Viegas in Discovery News. The Evarcha culicivora is a species of jumping spider (a less than a centimeter-and-a-half long salticide, one of some five thousand species). It stalks a mosquito (like a cat) instead of trapping it in a web, and then pounces either on top or underneath it before taking a bite. The strike takes less than 0.04 second. Its acute eyesight (it has eyes that support high-acuity vision—the Evarcha has six to eight eyes) and its sense of smell help it seek out female mosquitoes of the mosquito Anopheles gambiae, a notorious blood-sucker that is the main carrier of malaria in Africa, which have just gorged themselves on a victim's blood.

Preliminary work by the group also suggests that the preference is innate, since tests on lab-reared spiders that had never tasted blood yielded similar results. Since this vampire spider cannot itself pierce skin and sip blood, it instead feeds on blood indirectly.

"They can make decisions and plan ahead," Dr. Simon Pollard a researcher of Canterbury University of New Zealand, said. "These spiders have the predatory nature to rival that of a small mammal, and show evidence of complex behavior such as making decisions."

This blood-hungry spider is found only around Lake Victoria in Kenya and Uganda, and usually hunts insects on tree trunks and buildings. Dr. Ximena Nelson, the study co- author, conducted a food preference test and proved that even when using sight alone or smell alone, the Evarcha almost always chose for prey the blood-engorged females (and not males that do not suck blood) that had just feasted on blood, rather than other mosquitoes that were fed a sugar concoction.

She said that feeding on blood is a dangerous activity, so this spider appears to minimize its risk. "Living creatures that are bitten have a reflective `swatting' response — human use their arms, tailed animals use their tails, etc., and this action frequently kills the insect. It may be safer for Evarcha to obtain blood by killing a mosquito, than to risk being swatted, even if they did have the mouth parts required to pierce skin and locate a blood vessel" (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, "News in Science," Oct. 31, 2005, see also New York Times, Oct. 18, 2005).

The National Geographic writes, "They say most spiders expend a lot of energy breaking solid food down into liquid by injecting their prey with digestive enzymes. `Perhaps blood is a ready-made, nutrient-rich liquid meal,' Nelson said."

No other predators are known to choose prey based on the prey's last meal. "But actually," says Nelson, "also humans feed cows in a manner that improves their taste."

About a similar astonishing occurrence that has no explanation without admitting that Hashem runs the world and nourishes all of His creations, the Sefer HaBris writes as follows:

"It is amazing that HaKodosh Boruch Hu takes care to feed and provide for all His creations from the huge re'em to the tiny lice, and created for each species suitable food that it innately likes. We know that every vegetation, flower, thorn and bud has certain types of animals that feed from it in particular and not from anything else.

"I will mention one or two examples: the oak tree provides with its roots, wood, bark, leaves, flowers and fruit nourishment for three hundred types of known animals. From a certain plant called brenenstelin in Yiddish and in Russian called krapivah (nettle in English) that stings and irritates any hand that touches it, fifty types of animals obtain nourishment.

For every species the Creator has created some plant or substance as its favorite food. May the G-d of all creatures and the Lord of all generations be praised that nothing lacks in His world. He has created `numerous living things with their deficiencies, for all that You have created with which to maintain the life of every being' (Brochoh of Borei Nefoshos).

"You will be even more astonished by Hashem's kindness and wonders from the following. When workers hew massive rocks from mountains to build walls and houses from them, they smash them with axes and heavy blows. Sometimes they find secluded within these stones a cavity where live frogs strive, and after the rocks are broken into, the frogs emerge into the world. Since each such cavity exists in unbroken, fully enclosed rock, it is a miracle that the frogs are able to obtain their sustenance. Hashem does this and from where He sits, He watches over them to provide their food and nourishment.

"Hashem's eyes roam over all and see even where darkness prevails. He sees his creatures even in the heart of rocks, in the middle of the earth and deep down within the earth underneath stone, and provides them with their food in the proper time. May the One Who provides for all be praised, and may the One Who Nourishes all be blessed."

The Sefer HaBris writes that we can infer a practical lesson from this: "And now, intelligent reader, after Elokim has revealed to you all this, it is improper for someone as sensible and wise as you, to overly exhaust himself for a livelihood. It is fitting for you to cling to the middoh of bitochon and, `Cast upon Hashem your burden and He will sustain you' (Tehillim 55:23).

"Explore the ways for finding your livelihood in a natural manner. You need not exhaust yourself from morning to night and endanger yourself passing through oceans, forests, deserts and faraway roads, wearing yourself out both by day and night, not resting during the day and not lying down at night. Surely you should not set yourself up in a prohibited livelihood, and choliloh, act wickedly. You should not envy sinners, people following improper schemes . . .and He commanded us to remember the manna that fell daily so that we will trust in Him that He will provide us today and tomorrow with food, just as He daily provided us with manna."

The Pnei Yehoshua explains the saying of Chazal, "Someone who recites Tehilloh LeDovid three times a day is guaranteed to merit Olam Habo" (Brochos 4b), as follows: "It seems to me that this means that through reciting this psalm three times each day with kavonoh, he has established a chazokoh of the true emunoh that the whole world that was only created to serve people engaged in Torah study, given with twenty-two letters of the alef-beis found in this psalm, has been strengthened in his heart.

"It is well known that all that Hashem created was only for this purpose. A person should reflect when saying the posuk, `You open Your hand, and satisfy the desire of every living thing' (Tehillim 145:16), that HaKodosh Boruch Hu feeds and provides sustenance for His world from the huge re'em until the tiny lice. They obtain their livelihood without exerting themselves and without bother, as is written above, `The eyes of all look to You with hope and You give them their food in its proper time" (v. 15). And therefore surely a person must contemplate and afterward reach the conclusion that it is futile to exert oneself the whole day working for a livelihood.

"Since the only purpose of all the creatures of the world is to serve man and HaKodosh Boruch Hu provides them with their livelihood without exertion, certainly it is proper that He will do so for those guarding His covenant and remembering His commands that are the main reason the world exists and are the foundation of the world. `Cast on Hashem your burden, and He will sustain you.' It is also written, `I have not seen a righteous man forsaken, nor his children begging for bread' (Tehillim 37:25).

"After pondering this, a person will unquestionably do his work in a temporary way, but will do the work of Heaven in a permanent (steady, committed) way. And as Chazal teach us, if someone acts like that, both (his work and the work of Heaven) are successful, and that is what is meant in the saying of Chazal that one who recites Tehilloh LeDovid (Ashrei) three times a day is guaranteed Olam Habo.

"In addition, we now also understand well that our Sages said to recite Ashrei three times during the day and not at night before Ma'ariv, because a person mostly exerts himself for his livelihood during that time after Shacharis, as is written, `Man goes forth to his work, and to his labor until evening' until the tefilloh of Minchah. This seems to me to be the right explanation."

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