[From the beginning of this mitzvah until the words "However, this is not a proper explanation," the Rambam explains the mitzvah according to an opinion he rejects. This mitzvah, he later concludes, prohibits eating a water insect. When quoting such an opinion, the Rambam usually hints at the outset that he disagrees. Kapach (5731, note 88) suggests that this first part was an early draft, and the Rambam later changed his mind.]

The 179th prohibition is that we are forbidden from eating any insect whatsoever, regardless of whether it flies (sheretz ha'of), breeds in the water (sheretz hamayim) or on land (sheretz ha'aretz).

The source of this prohibition is G‑d's statement,1 "Do not make yourselves disgusting [by eating] any small creature that breeds. Do not defile yourselves with them, because it will make you spiritually insensitive."

This constitutes a separate prohibition punishable by lashes, and resembles an issur kolel (inclusive prohibition). Therefore, one who eats an insect which breeds on the ground (sheretz ha'aretz) receives two sets of lashes: once for the prohibition,2 "Every small creature which breeds on land is repulsive to you. It may not be eaten," and once for the prohibition, "Do not make yourselves disgusting [by eating] any small creature that breeds." Similarly, one who eats a flying insect (sheretz ha'of) receives two sets of lashes: once for the prohibition,3 "All flying insects are unclean to you. They may not be eaten," and once for the prohibition, "Do not make yourselves disgusting [by eating] any small creature that breeds." And if one eats a single insect which both flies and breeds on the ground, and therefore qualifies both as a sheretz ha'of and a sheretz ha'aretz, he receives four sets of lashes. If this same insect also breeds in the water (sheretz hamayim), one would receive six sets of lashes. The fifth set is because of the prohibition against eating a non-kosher fish, regarding which it is written,4 "Do not eat from their flesh," and the sixth set because of [this prohibition], "Do not make yourselves disgusting [by eating] any small creature that breeds," since it also includes insects which breed in water (sheretz hamayim) and it is the only verse which prohibits such insects.

In accordance with these principles, our Sages said in tractate Makos,5 "One who eats a potisa receives four sets of lashes; a n'mala — five sets; a tzira — six sets." Every commentary on this passage — "One who eats a potisa..." — that I have heard or seen explains it in this way.

However, this is not a valid explanation, and requires one to contradict the proper principles which are explained in the Talmud. This means as follows: If you think into that which was written above, you will find that three sets of lashes are given for the single prohibition, "Do not make yourselves disgusting [by eating] any small creature that breeds." And this idea has no merit, as our Sages have explained in tractate Chullin6 that one can never receive two sets of lashes for a single prohibition. We have already mentioned and explained this principle many times,7 and will bring other examples as well.8

The proper explanation, regarding which there is no doubt or objection, is that one who eats a creature which qualifies as a sheretz ha'of and a sheretz hamayim and a sheretz ha'aretz receives only three sets of lashes — once for the prohibition of sheretz ha'of [N175]; once for the prohibition of sheretz ha'aretz [N176]; and once because of the statement, "Do not make yourselves disgusting," since insects which breed in the water are also included in the phrase "any small creature" (kol hashoretz), and therefore in the prohibition, "Do not make yourselves disgusting [by eating] any small creature that breeds."

And if one ate an insect which breeds only on the ground, he receives just one set of lashes, for the prohibition of sheretz ha'aretz. So too if it was [just] a flying insect, he receives only one set of lashes — for sheretz ha'of. And if it breeds only in the water, he receives just one set — because of the verse, "Do not make yourselves disgusting [by eating] any small creature that breeds."

But9 just because this prohibition includes a sheretz ha'aretz, one cannot be lashed twice for eating one. The reason is that even if there were a thousand prohibitions — each one specifically prohibiting sheretz ha'aretz — one would still only be lashed once, since they are merely repeating the same prohibition. Even if was repeated, "Do not eat (lo soch'lu) a sheretz ha'aretz," "Do not eat (lo yei'o'cheil) a sheretz ha'aretz" one thousand times, only one set of lashes would be given.

Have you seen those who propose this erroneous principle dictating two sets of lashes for a person who wears shatnez, since there are two10 prohibitions? I have not seen them say such a thing, and they would consider it strange if anyone else did. But they somehow do not find it strange when they rule that one who eats a sheretz ha'aretz or sheretz ha'of receive two sets of lashes — once for the specific prohibition and once for the prohibition, "Do not make yourselves disgusting [by eating] any small creature that breeds." This is totally clear even to the deaf and dumb.

I will now go back and complete the discussion begun previously.11 If a living creature developed inside any type of seed or fruit, and then emerged to the surface, one who eats it receives one set of lashes even though it never touched the ground.12 This is because it is covered by a separate prohibition, as explained in the previous commandment [N178].

If this creature reached the ground and crawled (romas13) on it, one who ate it would receive two sets of lashes — one for "Do not defile your souls [by eating] any small creature that lives on land" [N178], and one for "Do not defile your souls [by eating] any small creature that lives on land" [N177].

If this creature was also capable of reproducing, one would receive three sets of lashes — two as mentioned above, and a third for, "Every small creature which breeds on land is repulsive to you. It may not be eaten." [N176].

If it was also able to fly, one would receive a fourth set of lashes because of the prohibition, "All flying insects are unclean to you. They may not be eaten" [N175]. If it could swim as well as fly — as we see many such species — one would receive a fifth set of lashes for the general prohibition which includes a sheretz hamayim, "Do not make yourselves disgusting [by eating] any small creature that breeds." If this same creature which developed [from inside the food] was also a bird, one would receive a sixth set of lashes, for,14 "These are the flying animals that you must avoid. Do not eat..." [N174].

Do not be surprised that a bird could develop from decayed fruit, since we often see birds develop from decaying matter which are larger than a hazelnut.15 You should also not find it strange that the same creature is considered a non-kosher bird and an insect (sheretz ha'of), since it can have the characteristics of a bird and also display the actions and characteristics of an insect. You see that all the early explanations16 include in the six sets of lashes the prohibitions of non-kosher fish [N173] and sheretz hamayim (water insects). This is reasonable and I don't disagree, since it is possible for a creature to be both a fish and a sheretz hamayim.

Similarly, the same creature can be both a bird and a sheretz ha'of. This is the potisa, which is a bird, a sheretz ha'of, a sheretz ha'aretz, and a sheretz hamayim, and one therefore receives four sets of lashes for eating one. The n'mala referred to is one which flies, develops from decaying fruit, and doesn't reproduce. For eating it one receives lashes for an insect which came from food [N178], was shoretz on land [N176], was romeis on land [N177], a sheretz ha'of, and a sheretz hamayim. The tzira, which also develops from decayed matter,17 has the additional quality of being both a bird and a sheretz ha'of.

The development of a tzira or n'mala or other flying or crawling creature from decayed matter or from inside fruit only seems impossible to the uneducated, who are ignorant in natural science.18 They think it impossible for anything to come into existence except through male-female reproduction, since they see that this is so in the majority of cases.

Remember these principles and understand this subject well, since19 "Everything is explained in the proper way." I've explained the ways in which to determine that eating one type of creature is punishable by a certain number of sets of lashes, and another type by a lesser number.

It can be understood from the previous quotes that one if eats an entire creature we do not investigate its size and require a kezayis. Even eating a ba'utz20 is punishable by three sets of lashes — for sheretz hashoretz [N176], romeis [N177], and sheretz ha'of [N175].

Our Sages also said,21 "One who holds himself in from defecating transgresses the prohibition, 'Do not make yourselves disgusting.' " Similarly, "One who drinks water from a karna d'umna — which is a vessel used for bloodletting — transgresses the prohibition, 'Do not make yourselves disgusting.' " The same applies for eating filth or disgusting things or drinking anything repulsive which most people find revolting — they are all prohibited. One does not receive lashes for them, however, since the plain meaning of the verse refers to insects. One is administered makos mardus.22

From everything explained above about this verse, "Do not make yourselves disgusting," we see that it comes to prohibit only the a sheretz hamayim, which is not covered by any other prohibition. You should understand this well.