The Compassionate One nurtures all the creatures that He created, as it is written: "He gives food to all flesh, for His lovingkindness endures forever" (Psalm 136:25)
"He gives food to all flesh" - The great lovingkindness of the Compassionate One extends to all creatures, for He prepares for each and every creature the food that is fitting for it. (Commentary of the Radak)
The above verse serves as a reminder that the world is a Divine "restaurant" where all creatures are served. Human beings are created in the Divine image with the responsibility to emulate the Divine ways. An early example of this responsibility can be found in the Torah's story of Noah's ark. Before the great flood, Noah was given a Divine mandate to build a very large ark, and within this ark would be a "restaurant" which would enable Noah to emulate the Divine nurturing. Who were the "customers" at Noah's restaurant? The answer can be found in the following verses:
"And of every living thing, of all flesh, you shall take two of each into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. Of birds, according to their species, and of animals, according to their species, of every creeping thing of the ground, according to its species; two of each sort will come to you, so that you will keep them alive. As for you, take for yourself of every food that serves as nourishment and store it away, and it shall be food for you and for them." (Genesis 6:19-21)
The various species are mentioned, but when "creeping things" are mentioned, the verse stresses "every" creeping thing. What is the reason for this special emphasis? I found an answer in the ArtScroll commentary on the above passage. The emphasis on "every" creeping thing is to impress upon Noah the following insight: Although insects may seem unnecessary and dispensable to him, their utility was known to the Creator; thus, Noah was to be even more punctilious in assuring that each one of their species was accounted for (Toldos Yitzchak). In other words, even insects were welcome at Noah's restaurant.
What was the menu at this restaurant? According to Jewish tradition, this was a vegetarian restaurant (vegan style). As the Radak, a classical biblical commentator, explains: "The food was fruits, seeds, and herbs." The Radak adds that even the carnivorous creatures abstained from meat, just like they did at the dawn of creation.
This restaurant remained open for one year. And what was the service like? An answer can be found in various midrashim and commentaries on Genesis 7:23. For example, the Midrash Tanchuma states in the name of Rabbi Levi that each creature had its own feeding schedule; moreover, some creatures needed to be fed at various hours of the night. Rabbi Levi adds:
"During the entire 12 months neither Noah and his sons knew the pleasure of sleep, for they were responsible for the feeding of the domestic animals, the wild animals, and the birds."
The Midrash Tanchuma also cites the following tradition which indicates that there was once an angry complaint about the service:
"Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Eliezer the son of Rabbi Yossi Hagalili: One time Noah was late with food for the lion, and the lion struck him. Noah emerged limping."
The ArtScroll commentary explains that Noah was struck by the lion, because his obligation to feed the lion and the other creatures was a Divine mandate; thus, Noah should have been more scrupulous in carrying out his duty to provide for them punctually (Me'am Loaz).
With the help of Hashem, we shall discuss in the upcoming letters the universal lessons that we can learn from the story of Noah's restaurant.
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen
1.The Ramban explains that although the ark was large, it was a Divine miracle that the ark was able to contain all the species, as well as the food needed to feed them (Commentary to 6:19).
2. It is written regarding the "tzadik" – righteous person: "A tzadik knows the needs of his animal's soul" (Proverbs 12:10). The Malbim, a noted 19th century biblical commentator, explains that the tzadik understands the nature of his animal, and he gives the animal its food in its proper time and according to the amount it needs. He also makes sure to fulfill the Torah's mitzvah to feed one's animals before one feeds oneself.