The Animals in Eden

This past Shabbos, we chanted the following words:

"For the Compassionate One will comfort Zion, He will comfort all her ruins; He will make her wilderness like Eden and her wasteland like the Garden of the Compassionate One; joy and gladness will be found there, thanksgiving and the sound of music." (Isaiah 51:3).

In the spirit of the above passage, I would like to share with you the following excerpt from: The Vision of Eden: Animal Welfare and Vegetarianism in Jewish Law and Mysticism by Rabbi David Sears. This excerpt is from the chapter, "Eden and the Messianic Age," and it discusses the spiritual level of the animals in the Garden of Eden:


In the second chapter of Genesis, the Torah describes the Garden of Eden, an idyllic environment in which the first man and woman, and with them all living beings, could enter into communion with God. Formed of the dust of the Earth but imbued with a Divine soul, Adam and Eve lived in this wondrous place of luxuriant trees and plants, together with all the species of animals.

The animals of Eden were neither predatory beasts of the wilderness nor the domesticated animals with which we are familiar; they were awesome beings possessed of beauty and wisdom, which, like Adam and Eve and the first ten generations of humankind, peacefully subsisted on vegetation alone. Their mode of existence was not something to be shunned or pitied, as it is today. Indeed, sea-creatures and fowl were deemed worthy of receiving the first explicit Divine blessing, given on the fifth day of creation (Genesis 1:22). The other animals were created on the sixth day, together with Adam and Eve, and they received a separate affirmation of Divine favor (ibid. 1:25).

The dignity of animals is borne out by a number of sources. The Talmud states that God conferred with the souls of all animals prior to creation, and they readily agreed to be created as such, even choosing their own physical forms.[1] This teaches us that they were deserving of God's consideration, and that they were given to understand their destiny in positive terms. Another testimony to the worthiness of animals is their connection to angels. Although angels are incorporeal spiritual beings,[2] their forms as envisioned by the prophets were often those of animals. This suggests that in their spiritual source, animals occupy an exalted rung - an inference supported by the fact that the Torah uses animals to symbolize the Twelve Tribes of Israel.[3]

Animals, too, serve their Creator. The Talmud tells how Rabbi Elazar Ben Arach caused his master Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai to share a mystical vision with him in which they heard the wondrous song of all creatures, bringing to life the words of the Psalmist: "Praise God from the Earth: sea giants and all the depths, fire and hail, snow and vapor, storm wind that fulfills His word; mountains and all heights, trees and all cedars; animals and all beasts, creeping things and winged fowl..."[4] This is the theme of the Sabbath and Festival prayer "Nishmas kol chai" ("The souls of all living things shall praise Your Name..."), as well as the Perek Shira ("Chapter of Song"), an ancient rabbinic work mentioned in the Talmud[5] and much favored by the Kabbalists.


[1] Chullin 60a, with Rashi, s.v. li'tzivyonam.

[2] Cf. Mishneh Torah, Yesodei HaTorah 2:3. The Zohar I, 101a, 144a, and III, 68b, states that the "bodies" of angels are formed of air or fire, whereas Pardes Rimonim 24:11 (51a) describes the angel as a composite of the four elements, even asserting that "an angel is like a physical body in comparison to the sublime level of the tzaddik." However, this does not mean to ascribe actual physicality to the angels. In general, the angelic realm is a spiritual analogue of physical nature, whereas human souls occupy an altogether higher rung; cf. Yerushalmi Shabbos 2:6; Tikkunei Zohar, Tikkun 70 (137a); Likkutei Moharan II, 1:1.

[3] Genesis, ch. 49.

[4] Chagigah 14b, citing Tehillim 148, acc. to Maharsha.

[5] Chullin 64b.

The Vision of Eden is published by Orot: .

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