“The Human Animal”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

On three of the next four Shabbatot, the Torah readings will consist of combined parashiot. The main reason for the doubling up is to make certain that the reading of the entire five books of the Torah will be completed by Simchat Torah.

In parashat Tazria, the first of this week’s double parashiot Tazria-Metzorah, we read of the laws that govern the ritual status of women following the birth of a child, whether male or female. G-d speaks to Moses, instructing him to speak to the children of Israel and say to them (Leviticus 12:2): “Ee’sha kee tazria v’yalda zachar,” When a woman conceives and gives birth to a male child…

The rabbis are perplexed as to why these laws of childbirth immediately follow the laws of kosher and non-kosher animals that are found at the end of the previous parasha, Shemini.

The Midrash Tanchuma explains the juxtaposition by stating that G-d created the human being both “before and after” the creation of the sixth day. The Midrash goes on to explain that of the six things that were created on Friday (the sixth day of the week), the exalted human soul was created first. Adam and Eve, however, were created last, after the animals, due to the fact that the “human animal” is often no better, and, at times, far worse, than other animals. Therefore, the laws pertaining to human animals appear in the Torah after the laws of all the other animals.

Rabbi Nissen Telushkin (1881-1970, Russian born Chassidic scholar, who was a leading expert in Jewish law in Brooklyn, NY) in his book, HaTorah v’haOlam, Torah and the World, explains that human beings have the capability of expressing all the worst qualities that are found among animals. The human being can be gluttonous and promiscuous. A human being can anger easily, be vengeful, bear a grudge, be blood thirsty and covet the possessions of others. The primary advantage of human beings over beasts of the field is the Divine soul–the spirit and intelligence with which they are endowed. These spiritual endowments make it possible for humans to conquer their evil inclinations, to choose to do good and eschew evil.

It was the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900),who expounded on the greatness of the physical human being and denigrated the spiritual human being. To Nietzsche and his followers, power was the most exalted human endowment. Righteousness, justice and compassion are the concern of slaves and lower human beings. The “Ubermensch” has no need for justice, righteousness or compassion, only strength and power.

According to the Torah, however, the spiritually exalted human being can even use his so-called “evil” endowments to do much good.

Although pridefulness is normally considered a negative human characteristic, it may at times promote good. For example, a person living in a thoroughly wicked environment would normally not know to do good. Being exposed to constant wickedness, such a person would inevitably be greatly influenced by the perpetual evil, were it not for the fact that he may wish to stand out from the crowd and be different. In such a case, hubris may actually encourage such a person to act differently than others.

One who lusts after the possessions of others is generally considered evil, but not one who lusts for, or is jealous of, the greatness of a neighbor’s wisdom, or good deeds with man and G-d. This is precisely what our rabbis allude to in Baba Batra 21a, “Kin’aht sofreem tar’beh chochmah,” Jealousy among scholars increases wisdom.

Similarly, anger may at times be properly utilized to guide and teach children and young adults. Even the ethical masters, the Baalei Mussar, who loathed anger, would allow their adherents to occasionally display anger, as long as it was intended to achieve a positive end.  Teachers and parents were thus advised to set fixed times to show anger, in order to properly discipline children and students. But, only on the condition that as soon as the “anger-time” was up, they would return to their required calm demeanor.

A story is told of a particular Chassidic master, who, when overcome with feelings of anger, would quickly run to his study to look through his entire library to search for a source in a religious text that would permit him to express his anger. He explained that normally when a follower would come to ask whether something was kosher or not, he would enter his library to search for the proper answer in the holy books. He would never rely on his memory to determine a law, for he wanted to make certain that his answer was correct. While in the library, he felt like a student before his rabbi. “Why,” he said, “should it be any different with anger? I need to consult with my rabbis, the masters [meaning the books], to find out whether I am entitled to be angry.” Obviously, while looking for a justification for his anger in the holy tomes, in most instances, his anger dissipated.

Rabbi Telushkin cites a play on words found in the biblical verse (Numbers 19:14): “Adam kee ya’moot b’ohel,” If a person dies in a tent, by emphasizing that one should not allow the “Adam” — the moral element in each human being, to die. Otherwise, we are left with only our animalistic tendencies.

We humans, created in the Divine image, must appreciate that we are endowed with holy souls that are primarily intended to be utilized to encourage positive growth and the performance of good and noble deeds. Even the physical, animalistic qualities in us, such as anger and jealousy may be used for good. After all, despite the fact that animals were created before Adam and Eve, the human soul was created before the human body, and it is the human soul that distinguishes us from animals.

May you be blessed.

Following the ruling of the Chief Rabbinate of the State of Israel, the 62nd year of Israel’s independence will be celebrated on Monday evening, April 19th and all day Tuesday, April 20th, the 6th of Iyar.