Learning from the Rooster



In order to begin to understand the message of this lesson, we need to review the following teaching:


“When the Holy One, Blessed be He, created the world, He looked into the Torah and created the world” (Zohar, Terumah, p. 161a).


The Divine wisdom of the Torah served as the blueprint of the world; thus, when we look deeply into the world, we can find aspects of this Divine wisdom. In this spirit, the Talmud (Eruvin 100b) indicates that we can learn from every creature within creation, as it is written regarding the Educating One: “He teaches us from the animals of the land, and from the birds of the heavens He makes us wise” (Job 35:11). Rashi, in his commentary on the Talmud, explains, “He gave them wisdom in order to teach us proper conduct.” 


How do we know what we are to learn from every creature within creation? As human beings created in the Divine image, we have the ability to recognize the trait within each creature that can serve as a good example for us. In this letter, we will discuss what we can learn from the rooster:


Dear Friends,


Each morning, we chant the following blessing:


“Blessed are You, Hashem, our God, Sovereign of the Universe, Who gave the rooster understanding to distinguish between day and night.”


Our Torah encourages us to cherish wisdom and understanding; thus, we even say a blessing of thanksgiving to the Creator for giving the rooster the understanding to distinguish between day and night. The Hebrew word for “rooster” in the above blessing is sechvi – a term which also refers to the human heart. Just as the rooster has the understanding to distinguish between the light of day and the darkness of night, so too, the human heart has the understanding to distinguish between ideas which bring light into the world, and ideas which bring darkness into the world.


The wise King Solomon wrote: “Torah is light” (Proverbs 6:23); thus, the dawn’s early light is to remind us of the light of the Divine Teaching. The crowing of the rooster at dawn is to remind us to make distinctions between the light of the Divine Teaching and the darkness of ideas which are not in harmony with the Divine Teaching.


Our tradition therefore recognizes that the rooster conveys a spiritual message; however, the message of the wise rooster has many opponents in our modern age. They say to him:


“What gives you the right to make such a distinction and decide for everyone what is light and what is darkness? Do you think you have the absolute truth? There are no absolute truths, for they are all relative; thus, each person is free to decide what is light and what is darkness.” 


The opponents of the rooster’s message have the view known as “moral relativism” – the belief that no opinion or value is ultimately better than another, since it's all relative. It simply depends on your point of view. For example, one person may feel that tzedakah – helping those in need – is his truth, and another person may feel that being a miser is his truth. From the perspective of the moral relativist, who is to say which is better?


According to this philosophy, each person can be his own god and create his own truth – his own religion. The Torah, however, reveals that there is a higher and absolute truth. For example, the Torah teaches that the human being was placed in the Garden of Eden to serve as its caretaker – “to serve it and to guard it” (Genesis 2:15). According to our tradition, this Divine mandate is the prototype for all the mitzvos of the Torah, as the serving of the Garden represents all the mitzvos of action, and the guarding of the Garden represents all the mitzvos which call upon us to refrain from certain actions (Tikunei Zohar 55). The responsibility to “serve” the Garden is a prototype for all the mitzvos of the Torah which enable us to nurture and elevate the world – including ourselves. And the Divine call to “preserve” the Garden is a prototype for all the mitzvos of the Torah which prevent us from damaging and degrading the world – including ourselves.


Within the Garden, another Divine mandate was given to the human being – a reminder that the finite human being is not the ultimate source of morality, the knowledge of good and bad:

”Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad, you may not eat thereof; for on the day you eat it, you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:16,17).


The serpent in the story of the Garden, however, offers human beings a new way to view their role. In order to strengthen the temptation of the forbidden fruit, the serpent states:


“You will surely not die; for God knows that on the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and bad” (Ibid. 3:4,5).


Human beings are now tempted to become like God, and thereby decide for themselves what is “good and bad.” In this particular story, the human being decides that what is “good” is what gratifies the desires of the body, and what is “bad” is what denies the human being the complete gratification of these desires; thus, the forbidden fruit was eaten (Genesis 3:6).


The first human couple lost the Garden when they became moral relativists. As we discussed in this series, the path of the Torah is to lead us back to the Garden, but in order to walk on this path in a dark world, the Torah gives us mitzvos which serve as lamps of the Divine light:


“A mitzvah is a lamp and Torah is light” (Proverbs 6:23).


Our tradition therefore encourages us to learn from the example of the rooster, who distinguishes between the light and the darkness. In this way, we can find our way back to the Garden and experience the fulfillment of the following prophecy.


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


In the age when Zion will become like the Garden of Hashem, the rest of humanity will be inspired by Zion’s example. They will therefore reject the philosophy of moral relativism, and they will journey to Zion in order to rediscover the unifying Divine truth which will enable all the peoples of the earth to experience the harmony and peace of the Garden. As the Prophet Micah proclaimed:


“It will be in the end of days that the mountain of the Temple of Hashem will be firmly established as the most prominent of the mountains, and it will be exalted above the hills, and all peoples will stream to it. Many nations will go and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the Mountain of Hashem, to the Temple of the God of Jacob, and He will teach us of His ways and we will walk in His paths.’ For from Zion shall go forth Torah, and the word of Hashem from Jerusalem. He (the Messiah) will judge between many peoples, and will settle the arguments of mighty nations from far away. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning knives; nation will not lift up sword against nation, nor will they learn war anymore. They will sit, each person under his vine and under his fig tree, and none will make them afraid, for the mouth of Hashem, God of the hosts of Creation, has spoken.” (Micah 4:1-4)


The classical biblical commentators, Radak and Ibn Ezra, explain that the peaceful and pastoral vision of “each person under his vine and under his fig tree” includes all humankind. In addition, all creatures will experience this pastoral peace, as it is recorded in the following Divine promise:


“And a wolf shall live with a lamb, and a leopard shall lie with a kid; and a calf and a lion cub, and a fatling (will walk) together, and a small child will lead them. A cow and a bear will graze and their young will lie down together; and a lion, like cattle will eat hay. A suckling infant 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 Hashem as water covering the sea bed.” (Isaiah 11: 6-9).


“All of My Sacred Mountain” – Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains that when all humankind will look to Zion as the lofty center of its sanctification,  all the earth will be known as the sacred mountain of Hashem. (Commentary to Psalm 15:1)


Tonight, the sixth night of Chanukah, is also the beginning of the month of Teves. May we be blessed with a good month and a light-filled Chanukah.


Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen

Hazon - Our Universal Vision