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My late great grandfather was a torah scholar, but with all his learning, he never knew that a caterpillar metamorphoses into a butterfly. He was amazed when someone told him about the common phenomenon. My question is, is this metamorphosis ever mentioned in torah literature, be it Tanach, Chazal, Rishonim, or Acharonim?

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See Malbim (Iyov 27:18) who interprets the verse as referring to the ephemeral nature of a Lepidoptera chrysalis. – Fred May 9 '14 at 22:42
@Fred, sounds like an answer; why not post it as such? – msh210 May 11 '14 at 5:20
@msh210 I guess so, but I would feel more comfortable in posting an answer if I was prepared to include an analysis of traditional understandings of the עש/סס/אבזקא/דרנא, as well as a halachic discussion of the status of a caterpillar (whether it is considered sheretz ha'of and/or whether the status should be dependent on the fact that it has a flying form at a later stage). Oh well, I'll post it as is for now and hopefully someone will come along with a more thorough answer at some point. – Fred May 12 '14 at 6:18
up vote 7 down vote accepted

Iyov (27:18) discusses the ephemeral nature of a wicked person's success:

בָּנָה כָעָשׁ בֵּיתוֹ וּכְסֻכָּה עָשָׂה נֹצֵר

Translation (Mechon-Mamre):

He buildeth his house as a moth,1 and as a booth which the keeper maketh.

The Malbim (Iyov, ibid.) interprets the verse as referring to the ephemeral nature of a Lepidoptera chrysalis:

כמו שהעש בעת שמתעטף במעטפה שזה ביתו, ואחר שיוצא מן המעטפה את ביתו ישא רוח

Translation (mine):

Just as the moth, when it wraps itself in the chrysalis that becomes its home, afterwards, when it emerges from the chrysalis, its home is blown away by the wind....

1 Likely, the word עָשׁ in Biblical usage can apply to the entire order Lepidoptera.

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Thanks Fred. One comment: When the Malbim concludes ישא רוח, you assumed it refers to the house. I think it refers to the insect itself: the wind lifts it, meaning it can fly. – Murex May 23 '14 at 17:46
@Murex Interesting read, but then what do you do with the words "את ביתו"? – Fred May 25 '14 at 17:08

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