Noach – The Animals Owe Us

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In this week’s Torah portion of Noach there is a hint to the Seven Noahide Laws, which are: (1)idolatry, (2) cursing the Divine Name, (3) murder, (4) illicit relation, (5) theft and civil law (6) court systems (7) eating a limb torn from a live animal.

It would seem that when Hashem created the world He only allowed man to eat vegetation until after the flood, when he permitted Noach to eat meat; but not from a live animal. Why is this so?

The Torah says: “Every moving thing that lives shall be yours to eat; like the green vegetation, I have given you everything” (Breishis 9:3). Rashi explain, “לכם יהיה לאכלה SHALL BE FOOD FOR YOU — For I did not permit Adam Harishon to eat meat, but green herbs alone; but to you — just as the green herbs that I gave the full use of to Adam Harishon — do I give everything (Sanhedrin 59b).”

The Sifsei Chachamim on Rashi explains why Adam Harishon was not permitted to eat meat and what changed in the times of Noach. He says: “The reason why meat was permitted to Noach and not to Adam, I humbly believe is because man and animal were equally the creations of Hashem, one was no better than the other, so why should one be allowed to kill the other? But at the time of the flood, when they all sinned, and all of them deserved to be destroyed, but they survived in the merit of Noach, for this reason man is now better than the animals.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

How is it possible to logically entertain the possibility that man and animal are equal? Animals are completely made up of physical, world-driven instincts. Man was created “in the image of G-D,” with a spiritual soul interconnected to his and her physical body, with the ability to speak on an intellectual level, make deep cognitive decisions, and think on a very profound and creative level. Man also has free choice to choose between good and bad, with the ability to reach great heights in connecting with Hashem. Whereas animals, any corruption that happened to them in the days of the flood or at any other time, is due to instinctive reactivity to their surroundings. So why does the Sifsei Chachamim say they were once equal?

It must have been talking  in terms of damaging or killing another life force; animals and men were equal because we are both creations of Hashem, and how can it be justified to ruin or destroy such a precious and valuable entity. Hashem only allowed vegetation to be taken apart and eaten for the purpose of man and animals’ sustenance, which is why they were created in this world; without food we cannot live. What then changed? Aren’t animals still the same creatures created by Hashem just as man is?

We see from here the power of indebtedness. Since it was only in Noach’s merit that the animal kingdom was saved, it is as if he and his progeny own the animals and it is within our right to make productive use of them. (Albeit within reason, which is why there are limitation, like the prohibition of eating a limb torn from a live animal).

For this reason we are allowed to eat meat and, even more so, there is now a natural fear that animals have of mankind, as we see in Rashi from the previous pasuk: “So long as a baby, even one day old, has life you do not have to guard it against the attacks of mice, whilst Og, king of Bashan, when dead needs to be guarded against the attacks of mice, as it is said, ‘And the fear of you and the terror of you shall be [upon the beasts of the field etc.].’ When will the fear of you be upon the beasts? So long as you are alive (חתכם) (Shabbat 151b)” (Rashi 9:2).

The sense and reality of gratitude can be absolutely transformative!