A Divine Gift to the Wise: The Art of Learning from Other Creatures

"He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who know how to reason. He reveals the deep and the mysterious; He knows what is in the darkness, and light dwells with Him." (Daniel 2:21,22)

Dear Friends,

At this stage of our series, we have been focusing on the idea that other creatures can serve as our teachers. This is why we have begun to discuss some of the "songs" of various creatures which are found in "Perek Shirah" - an ancient mystical work. In fact, Rabbi Yosef Albo states that one who studies the deep lessons which can be derived from Perek Shirah is in the spirit of the following verse from Job (35:11): "He teaches us from the animals of the land, and from the birds of the heavens He makes us wise." (From the "Sefer Ha-Ikarim" - cited in Otzar Ha-Tefilah).

Nevertheless, it is written, "He gives wisdom to the wise" (Daniel 2:21); thus, we initially need to become spiritually wise before we can receive the Divine gift of wisdom which would enable us to properly understand the spiritual lessons which each creature has to offer the human being. For example, when people who are spiritually wise see the strength of a lion, they will learn how to use their own lion-like strength in overcoming the obstacles both within and without which prevent them from achieving their ethical and spiritual goals. This is why the Mishna teaches, "Be strong like a lion to carry out the will of your Father in Heaven." (Pirkei Avos 5:23 Commentary of Rabbi S.R. Hirsch)

People who lack spiritual wisdom may view the world as a "jungle"; moreover, they may view the human being as a sophisticated animal within this jungle. As a result, they can learn the wrong things from the world of nature and its creatures. For example, they may notice how in the jungle, the strong prey on the weak, and they may conclude that the human being should follow the law of the jungle by emulating this behavior. In addition, they may notice how within nature only the strong creatures survive, and they may conclude that this principle should be applied to human society. For example, some social Darwinists view the poor as the "weaker" elements of society, and according to their philosophy, society should not strengthen these weaker elements through giving help to the poor; instead, society should let nature take its course and allow the "strong" the wealthy to survive and flourish. My rebbe, Rav Aharon Feldman, told me that when he was growing up in Baltimore during the 1940's, a wealthy American industrialist was giving out a pamphlet in schools explaining why it was not socially "healthy" to give charity to the "weaker" elements of society such as the poor, for in the long run, society will flourish when only the "strong" survive. My rebbe told me that when he read this pamphlet, he realized the vast difference between the selfish philosophy of this industrialist and the altruistic philosophy of the Torah which stresses the mitzvah of tzedakah the Divine mandate to share our resources with those in need, including resources which will enable those in need to eventually support themselves. As the Prophet Jeremiah proclaimed in the Name of the Compassionate One: "Let not the wise one take pride in his wisdom, nor the strong one take pride in his strength, nor the rich one take pride in his riches. For only with this may one take pride - contemplating and knowing Me, that I am the Compassionate One Who does lovingkindness, justice, and tzedakah on earth, for in these is My desire" (Jeremiah 9:22,23).

For the human being is not merely a sophisticated animal; the human being was created in the Divine image with the capacity to emulate the Divine love and justice. As the Prophet Micah proclaimed, "He has told you, O human being, what is good and what the Compassionate One requires of you: only to do justice, love lovingkindness, and walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8).

Yes, there are ignorant people who view the world as a "jungle" where the strong prey on the weak and where only the strong survive. They do not realize that the "jungle" is not the ideal world which the Creator made, for at the dawn of human history, the human being and all creatures lived in peace and harmony in the Garden of Eden; moreover, all the human talents and drives were consecrated to the sacred and altruistic mission of serving and protecting the Garden (Genesis 2:15). Those with spiritual wisdom, however, are able to see the hidden potential of the world to regain the ideal state of the Garden of Eden. The wise Prophet Isaiah was aware of this potential when he proclaimed:

"The wolf will live with the sheep, and the leopard will lie down with the kid; and a calf, a lion whelp and a fatling together, and a young child will lead them. A cow and bear will graze and their young will lie down together; and a lion, like cattle, will eat hay. A suckling will play by a viper's hole; and a newly weaned child will stretch his hand towards an adder's lair. They will neither injure nor destroy in all of My sacred mountain; for the earth will be filled with knowledge of the Compassionate One as water covering the sea bed." (Isaiah 11:6-9)

People with spiritual wisdom therefore maintain their faith in the world's potential. And as the following teaching indicates, when we have faith in the potential of the world, we are emulating the faith of our Creator:

"It is written, 'He is a God of faith' (Deuteronomy 32:4). What is His faith? He had faith in the world and created it!" (Sifri)

All of us are part of the world; thus, we need to remember that the Creator has faith in "us" in our ability to become the ethical, caring, and holy people that we are meant to be.

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen

P.S. For further study, review the letter "Creatures as Teachers" which appears in the lower section of the archive on our website.

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