GalEinai
BiologyBlog Posts

Why Does the Camel Have a Short Tail?

…There is a custom among some Chassidim, to begin the study of the Talmudic tractate of Shabbat, starting with page 77b. As yeshivot around the world are studying it this year, we thought it especially appropriate to mention a story that appears there on that page.

One day, Rabbi Zeira saw that his teacher, Rabbi Yehudah, was in a very happy mood, and that any question about nature that he would ask him he would answer. So he took the opportunity and asked him; “Why does the camel have a short tail, while the ox has a long tail?”[1]

A Function of Environment

The first thing we can appreciate from this story is that joy was a prerequisite. From the fact that the Talmud made a point of how happy Rabbi Yehudah was, we can deduce a very important principle: If you want to understand why God created nature the way He did, first make sure you are in a happy frame of mind![2] Rabbi Yehudah replied that camels eat thorns, and if its tail were long, it would get caught in the thorns and be injured by them.[3] Why then does the ox have a long tail? He answered this is because the ox lives in areas that have a lot of mosquitoes (Aramaic: בקי), so it needs a long tail to swat them away.[4] Therefore, God gave him the defense mechanism he needed.

Eating Modestly

Based on this story from the Talmud, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov explains[5] that there are two types of tzadikim, modest tzadikim and great tzadikim. The camel represents the modest tzadikim.[6] Camels are modest, meaning that they cohabit unobtrusively.[7] Rabbi Nachman explains that the camel’s eating habit alludes to the way modest tzadikim consume the kelipot.[8] While these righteous individuals do not provoke the wicked, they still consume their daily diet of thorns; the kelipot. Even though this is not their intention, through their daily regimen of modest mitzvot, prayers, and Torah study; it just so happens that they are also eating their fair share of kelipot as well!

In addition to sharing the trait of modesty, both camels and modest tzadikim have ‘short tails’ (i.e., they are not injured by either thorns or kelipot, because they do not get caught up in them). But a great tzadik is like a firstborn son, who receives a double portion of the inheritance; as in the blessing Jacob gave to Ephraim and Menashe; “To his firstborn ox is [given] glory” (בְּכוֹר שׁוֹרוֹ הָדָר לוֹ).[9]Whatever the great tzadik speaks, it always has two meanings. While this can mean that his words carry a double reward—as was the case with Jacob’s blessing, as each of the two sons of Joseph became a full-fledged tribe—he can also be easily misunderstood. This is the trait of a great tzadik;that even earnest people might comprehend the complete opposite of what he is really trying to say.

Swatting Away the Opponents

How then is this a blessing? Because God gave these great tzadikim ‘long tails’ for a reason; so that they could swat away the opponents that they created themselves! Even though they are the source for many of these kelipot, since they can also swat them away, the fact that they live in a ‘mosquito’ ridden environment is ultimately for their own good.

Similar to the double-portion of the firstborn, God gave great tzadikim a ‘long tail’ as a gift. That while they will need to swat away the external forces that oppose them, they also have a much greater ability to bring down a double-portion of blessing.


[1] As mentioned in the class, this was actually the second question posed to Rabbi Yehudah. The first was; “Why do black goats precede white sheep in a herd?”

[2] This goes for those now reading this article as well!

[3] It is interesting to note that this is exactly the same thinking as used in modern biology.

[4] This is also something a biologist would say.

[5] Likutei Moharan II 15.

[6] Plof tzadik (צַדִיק), righteous individual.

[7] See Rashi on Genesis 32:16.

[8] Husks of impurity that conceal the sparks of holiness.

[9] Deuteronomy 33:17.

Adapted from Rabbi Ginsburgh’s class, Be’er Sheva, 21 Elul 5773


[1] As mentioned in the class, this was actually the second question posed to Rabbi Yehudah. The first was; “Why do black goats precede white sheep in a herd?”

[2] This goes for those now reading this article as well!

[3] It is interesting to note that this is exactly the same thinking as used in modern biology.

[4] This is also something a biologist would say.

[5] Likutei Moharan II 15.

[6] Plof tzadik (צַדִיק), righteous individual.

[7] Husks of impurity that conceal the sparks of holiness.

[8] Deuteronomy 33:17.

Related posts

The Redeeming River of Charity

Imry GalEinai

Shevat and the Democratization of Righteousness

Imry GalEinai

Kaf Dalet Tevet 5768 Farbrengen with Harav Yitzchak Ginsburgh

Imry GalEinai

Leave a Comment

Verified by MonsterInsights