Our Kinship With All Creatures


In "The Vision of Eden," Rabbi David Sears writes: "A fundamental premise of Judaism is belief in the absolute and encompassing Oneness of the Creator, Who brings all things into being (Mishneh Torah of Maimonides, Yesodei HaTorah 1:1). In addition to defining our view of the Creator, this premise informs our view of creation. Since creation in all its diversity flows from the Divine Oneness, it follows that in its Essence, all creation is one - a mystical concept that has profound spiritual and ethical implications. If all creation constitutes a unitary whole, then all things, from the highest to lowest entity in the hierarchy of creation, share a spiritual affinity with one another."

Rabbi Sears adds: "The spiritual affinity of which we speak exists by virtue of the Infinite One Who produces and imparts existence to all things, while at the same time transcending them." And Rabbi Sears cites the following verse, "How worthy are Your works, O Compassionate One; You have created them all with wisdom" (Psalms 104:24).

"For this paramount reason," concludes Rabbi Sears, "it is natural and proper for human beings to feel kinship with animals and all forms of life, despite the physical and spiritual differences between them."

Dear Friends,

In Letter 114 of this series, we cited the teaching of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch that the human being is a "brother" to other creatures; however, he holds the rank of the firstborn, since his task is to be the steward of the earth. The human being is therefore the "older brother" in the family. In "Horeb," Rabbi Hirsch's classical work on the Torah's mitzvos, he elaborates on the idea that other creatures are our brethren. For example, he writes:

"Compassion is the feeling of empathy which the pain of one being of itself awakens in another. The higher and more human the beings are, the more keenly attuned are they to re-echo the note of suffering, which like a voice from heaven, penetrates the heart, bringing to all creatures a proof of their kinship in the universal God. And as for the human being, whose function it is to show respect and love for God's universe and all its creatures, his heart has been created so tender that it feels with the whole organic world, bestowing sympathy even on beings devoid of feeling - mourning even for fading flowers. If nothing else, the very nature of his heart must teach him that he is required above everything to feel himself the brother of all beings, and to recognize the claim of all beings to his love and his beneficence." (Toros 17)

In the following summary of Rabbi Hirsch's commentary on the verse, "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18), we find the teaching that all creatures are also our "friends":

The saying of Hillel is well known: "What is hateful to you, do not do to your chaver - friend." This was his response to the idol-worshiper who had asked Hillel to teach him the Torah in the shortest possible manner. And he added to his response: "This is the essence of the whole Torah; everything else is only the explanation and elaboration of this principle - now go and study it!" The saying of Hillel merely expresses in a negative form what is stated in the Torah in the positive form ("Love Your Neighbor as Yourself"). Hillel used the term "friend," which in its broader meaning includes not only all our fellow human beings, but also all our fellow creatures. In this wider sense Hillel's saying is truly the essence of the entire Torah. For this is the whole intention of the Torah: It keeps us from anything that is unfavorable to our welfare and to the welfare of all the other creatures with whom we share this world. At the same time, it also defines for us what is unfavorable to our welfare and to the world's welfare. We are not to rely on our subjective judgment, on our vague feelings, and limited insight to determine what is unfavorable. Rather, we are to receive from the Torah the standard revealed by the Divine wisdom and insight.

In "Horeb," Rabbi Hirsch also reminds us that we are to view another human being as our closest friend. In an essay on the verse, "Love your neighbor as yourself: I am Hashem," Rabbi Hirsch writes that the Loving One is conveying to us the following message:

"I am Hashem, the personification of love, Who has chosen the human being to be the instrument of this love. Do you, O human being, not see how this love is the finest flower of this mission? How do you raise yourself above the stone and the plant and the animal? Is it not through devoting yourself of your own free will to the welfare of the world around you? And this is just what love effects. Your whole activity belongs to God's world; first, then, belong to it with the source of your activity, with your heart. Carry in it love for God's world, above all for your fellow-human, the first and worthiest recipient of your beneficent activity. Carry love in your heart; it is this which makes you a human being and an Israelite." (Horeb - Toroth 16)

Although we have a bond of love with all the members of our "family," we have a special closeness to our brothers and sisters who are created in the Divine image and who therefore share our capacity and responsibility to lovingly further the welfare of all creatures.

When we study Torah in-depth, we discover that the Torah harmonizes paradoxical truths. For example, in one sense, the human being has a primary and central role in creation, for the human being is created in the Divine image. In another sense, the human being who fulfills the Divine purpose in a human way is equal to other creatures who fulfill the Divine purpose in their ways. When I started to read "The Vision of Eden," I discovered a statement of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement, which discusses this idea. The Baal Shem Tov states: "In what way is a human being superior to a worm? A worm serves the Creator with all of his intelligence and ability." The Baal Shem Tov adds, "In this sense you are both equal in the eyes of Heaven. A person should consider himself, and the worm, and all creatures as friends in the universe, for we are all created beings whose abilities are God-given" (Tvava'as HaRivash 12). If we serve with the best of our ability, we are similar to the other creatures who serve with the best of their abilities.

The study of Torah in-depth reveals the unity of all the diverse creatures within creation. As Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz, a noted 20th century sage, wrote:

"The essence of the sacred Torah is unity. This is because the Giver of the Torah is One." (Cited in "Consuting the Wise" by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin)

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)

Related Teachings: (Cited in "The Vision of Eden")

1. The Maharal of Prague, writes: "Love of all creatures is also love of God, for whoever loves the One, loves all the works that He has made" (Nesivos Olam, Ahavas Re'a, 1).

2. Rabbi Menashe of Ilya, Lithuania (1767-1832), a leading disciple of the Vilna Gaon, once wrote: "What am I in comparison to the many forms of sentient life in the world? If the Creator were to confer upon me, as well as my family members, loved ones, and relatives, absolute goodness for all eternity, but some deficiency remained in the world if any living thing still were suffering, and all the more so, another human being I would not want anything to do with it, much less to derive benefit from it.

"How could I be separated from all living creatures? These are the works of God's hand, and these too, are the work of God's hand." (Author's Introduction, Ha'amek She'eilah, cited in biography printed with Alfei Menashe, Vol. II).

"The Vision of Eden" is published by Orot: www.orot.com . It is distributed in Israel by Michael Rose, Judaica Book Centre, 5 Even Israel Street, Jerusalem, tel: (02) 622-3215, e-mail: info@jbcbooks.com.

Hazon - Our Universal Vision