Rabbi Daniel Lapin
August 12, 2012
Usain Bolt set a new Olympic record in London for the hundred-meter race. Though true, it wouldn’t be particularly helpful if he advised aspiring athletes, “It’s easy; just move your legs faster.”
Similarly, while true, it isn’t helpful to remind ourselves that success comes to those who do what they must rather than what they feel like. We know that. We need to know how to overcome our feelings.
Fortunately God provides us with regular reminders from those sentient creatures with whom we share the planet—animals.
We encounter two talking animals in the Torah. The common English translations evoke Mother Goose rather than God’s intentions, so I am going to stick with the Hebrew. The nachash spoke to Eve:
…Did God really say that you should not eat from any of the trees in the garden? (Genesis 3:1)
The aton spoke to Bilaam:
have I done to you that you struck me these three times?
My family was boating off an island in British Columbia when we sighted a black bear scavenging for shellfish.
Hardly daring to breathe, we coasted closer and cut the engine. Drifting silently, we gazed in wonderment at this grand creature.
Imagine if the bear, just then, had raised his enormous head, opened his mouth, and clearly spoken, “Move along, please. Let a bear enjoy his breakfast in peace.”
Would we have said, “Oh sorry, we’ll leave now”? Of course not. I might have called out, “Who was that?” My son might have responded, “We must be on Candid Camera.” One thing is certain; none of us would have calmly engaged the bear in banter.
Yet Eve responded to the nachash by explaining that he was wrong. Bilaam also responded to the aton’s plaintive question. Neither of them expressed the slightest surprise at being addressed by an animal.
We ordinary humans do not possess the spiritual sensitivity of Eve or Bilaam. Yet on some level, animals still do communicate with us.
I’m not referring to the more obvious examples of the cat owner recognizing her pet’s dinner demand or the dog summonsing his owner for a walk. No, ancient Jewish wisdom tells us that each animal highlights one central lesson for our benefit.
The undemanding loyalty of dogs calls us to be better friends.
The cat’s obsession with cleanliness speaks to us of the importance of sanitation and hygiene.
The ant and the beaver present an argument against procrastination. These animals silently urge us to improve.
But there is also negative communication from the animal kingdom. At one time or another most of us have heard the seductive enticement, “C’mon, you’re really one of us. There’s no reason not to do what you feel like doing.”
The voice of the nachash tempts us with the idea that infidelity is genetic as surely as it tempted Eve to disobey God. It is that same voice echoing out of the pages of Genesis that assures us that we have no moral choice; everything is predetermined by our biological origins and urges.
Ultimately, animals remind us every day that we are different and special. We’re touched by the finger of God. We’re holy and thus capable of controlling our behavior, rather than merely following our instincts.
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The space constraints of these weekly Thought Tools don’t allow me to delve into the meaning of the Hebrew animal names above, though the analysis would be worthwhile. I am thrilled, though, to present Buried Treasure: Secrets for Living from the Lord’s Language with its detailed and entertaining examination of 29 Hebrew words.
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© 2012 Rabbi Daniel Lapin - All Rights Reserved
Rabbi Daniel Lapin, known world-wide as America's Rabbi, is a noted rabbinic scholar, best-selling author and host of the Rabbi Daniel Lapin Show on San Francisco’s KSFO. He is one of America’s most eloquent speakers and his ability to extract life principles from the Bible and transmit them in an entertaining manner has brought countless numbers of Jews and Christians closer to their respective faiths. In 2007 Newsweek magazine included him in its list of America’s fifty most influential rabbis.
You can contact Rabbi Daniel Lapin through his website.
Web Site: www.rabbidaniellapin.com