Don’t you know that homosexuality is natural? Surely you must be aware that same-sex behavior involving courtship and pair-bonding has been observed in hundreds of species of animals?
California’s Proposition 47 ensures that a career criminal (Sorry, I forgot that San Francisco prohibits that term in favor of “justice-involved-individual”) who steals money or property suffers virtually no consequences as long as the total value of his daily theft is less than $950. A journalist with whom I was discussing this wholesale eviction of moral principles explained, “Rabbi, you probably don’t know that hundreds of animals from whales to squirrels take things from other creatures and nobody brands them as criminals and thieves.”
Here is another one. Marriage is unnatural. Expecting two people to commit legally to remain together for today’s longer lifespans is crazy. Maybe it made sense during earlier agrarian days and when life was more perilous but today it’s just unnatural. Almost no animal mates for life and neither should we. It ought to be harder to get into marriage and easier to get out.
Each of the above three arguments has really been made. Many times. In many places such as magazines, media, books, university courses and by social pundits, professors, and commentators. All three arguments depend upon one underlying assumption. They are all built on the equation making people equivalent to animals. Or to put it more scientifically, people are just one more species on the vast spectrum of animal life on this planet. Since homosexuality, theft, and casual mating are common among animals, they ought to be common among people too. All attempts to discourage these behaviors should be stopped as these activities are perfectly normal and perfectly natural. Among animals, that is to say. Thus, family life, social stability and economic security slowly erode and thus civilization quietly dies.
Though wildly unpopular, the correct answer to each of the above three arguments is, “So what?” That’s right. So what if animals do these things? We aren’t animals, we are human beings touched by the finger of God. We humans don’t do those things. We may occasionally slip up but we certainly don’t celebrate those behaviors. We don’t even normalize them.
Let us note that civilization grew up around the Bible and that the countries and societies to which the world’s desperate individuals flock in hope are precisely those places shaped by Judeo-Christian Biblical values. One of the most important innovations that Moses bequeathed to the civilized world when he descended from Mt. Sinai was that people were a distinct and unique species. It was a shockingly new piece of information to most people back then and it is no less controversial today, that animals and humans are as different from one another as is a Tel Aviv falafel street stand from Maxim’s restaurant in Paris. It is true that both are places for relieving hunger and, yes, both animals and people breathe oxygen, but that is where the resemblance ends.
The first chapter in Genesis paints a mainly physical picture of life on earth. And through that biological lens, people do share similarities with lions, lemurs, and llamas. We all breathe, eat, require water, reproduce sexually, and die. It describes creatures in ascending order of biological complexity, starting with simple sea animals and ending with humans.
Chapter two, on the other hand, views Creation through a spiritual lens, naturally making a massive distinction between people and animals, describing them in order of moral significance. First humans in verse 7 then animals in verse 19. Moreover, the difference between male animals and female animals is ignored in chapter two just as it is in chapter one—they’re animals. But no fewer than seven verses of the second chapter are devoted to discussing the differences between men and women.
But does chapter one really ignore the differences between people and animals? Let’s find out by comparing four consecutive verses:
1) God made wild beasts of every kind and cattle of every kind, and all kinds of creeping things of the earth. And God saw that this was good.
2) And God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. They shall rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the cattle, the whole earth, and all the creeping things that creep on earth.”
3) And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
4) God blessed them and God said to them, “Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it; and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on earth.”
One verse covers the entire description of God creating animals. When creating mankind, God devoted three entire verses which yield much information that changed the history of civilization among those nations that had access to them.
First, we see that creating humans was a collaborative undertaking. God actually included man in his own creation when He said, “Let us make…”. This teaches us that we may not view ourselves as passive victims of outside vectors over which we have no control. We are responsible for making, improving and developing ourselves each and every day. We are partners of the Almighty in our own creation and daily renewal.
Second, no other creatures were given dominion over any others. Bears were not elevated over wolves. Human beings, however, were directed to master the world and all it contains. We are not animals; we are morally superior to animals and we are to master them. For instance, we own our animals, we are not their ‘guardians’.
Third, only we were purposefully created as male and female. Our maleness and femaleness were part of God’s plan from the beginning in a way quite different from animals whose gender differences are not worth mentioning.
Fourth, unlike animals, we are created in God’s image. This places enormous responsibility upon each of us to live up to that. When you wear the uniform of your country’s army you can’t behave just as you might when you’re dressed in anonymous jeans and a T-shirt. You’re identifiable as a representative of your army and have to behave appropriately. We humans are identifiable as being in the image of our Creator and are under an obligation to behave accordingly.
Finally, only we humans are especially blessed by God after He created us.
It is therefore as clear as could be that in both the first two chapters of the Bible, considerable emphasis is placed on distinguishing between people and animals. What animals do and how they behave is utterly irrelevant to how God expects us to behave. No, people are most decidedly not animals. Civilization came into being largely because of this paramount principle and it continues to exist only for as long as we maintain this vital distinction.
36 thoughts on “Animals Are People Too, Right?”
I’ve read a comment on this verse: And God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…” and there it was said that God speaks – consult with Angeles. And this is a big lesson for us that WE, doesn’t matter of your status, ( as a parent, manager, director, minister,king or whatever you are), should consider-consult your children, employee and so on.
Thanks for your teaching Rabbi and Rabanit Lapin
With all the admiration for you
Lilia from Rep of Moldova
You are correct that this is one approach to a puzzling verse. Another which we have explained in depth in an earlier Thought Tool is that with those resonant words, God is involving man in his own future. What more important lesson exists for today than a regular Biblical reminder that we are not passive victims of fate. We are not tennis balls floating down the gutter of life. No, we are partners with God in the unfolding of every fresh moment.
I heard about you today during Glenn Beck show and I was fascinated by the conversation you had with Beck. I immediately came to your website and I’m so thankful for finding such place.
About the article, this is interesting because If we are supposed to be like animals and animals are (in my option) “romanticized” as free and beautiful, then it’s also ok to kill your babies, like alligators do? Kill your partner like the black widow? Then it’s ok to be horrible parents as mocking birds are? Have you seen their nests and how they handle their offsprings? 😊 the list can go on and on. I love animals but what an silly discussion that is!
So happy you found us through my time with Glenn Beck this morning. I always enjoy spending time with him. Of course you are correct on romanticizing animals and the examples you bring are excellent instances of the peril in this approach. Thanks for finding us and for writing
I do not believe that “God actually included man in his own creation.” Genesis 2:7 “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” Man did not exist before God created him that is the miracle of Genesis 1:1 which is the foundation of my faith of “…..God created the heavens and the earth.” and all that lives and breaths. The word “Us” in my understanding from Genesis 1:26, 3:22, 11:7 Ezekiel 44:6 Isaiah 6:8 all refer to God and Genesis 3:8 “And they heard the sound of the Lord walking in the garden…..” To sum this up the person walking in the garden can be found in John 17:21 where Jesus uses the word “Us” to refer to himself and God of Genesis 1:1 “that they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You: that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You have sent Me.”
Dear Paul Arthur Levy–
Whenever someone starts a communication with the words “I believe…” or “I do not believe….”, that kinda ends the discussion, right? Saying “I believe” does not invite conversation–a statement of belief is pretty final. So, all I can say is that my mission is to make ancient Jewish wisdom accessible to all who desire it. What I taught in the Thought Tool is that God expects us to play a key role in our own development. You want to get married? Praying to God is not enough. It is part of the strategy but insufficient. You must do it. Want to earn more money? God expects you to do it. Want to be a better father? Just do it. And this principle is established by the actual creation when God said “Let us make man..” Meaning Me and him….because every man (and woman) is going to be the product of what I created and what he achieved with his life.
That dear Paul, is what I believe
I think some of the confusion may be in recognizing that we see “Let us make man” not only as a statement of Adam’s creation but of creating man for all time. So there wasn’t a “we” who gave life to the original Adam, but each of us is expected to help create ourselves.
Thank you Susan Lapin–
That is a valuable and necessary clarification
With more than merely cordial sentiments,
Thank you for your reply Rabbi. I absolutely agree that we play a part in our development – it is how we respond that counts – after all isn’t that in part of why G*d gave us a free will? Hashem didn’t create robots. He is a relational G*d and wants to be involved in our lives as must we want to honour, obey our Creator and fulfil the purpose He had in mind for each of us from the beginning of Creation and before. Kind regards. Reid
Dear Rabbi, I thank G*d for your and Susan’s ministry which reaches further than we can ever now know. For instance, your teachings have deepened my Christian faith and brought me closer on a spiritual level to my many Jewish friends. So, thank you for your obedience in fulfilling G*d’s purpose in my life and the lives of so many others.
Would you please expound on two aspects of your article “Animals are people too”?
1. I recall your having mentioned in the past that because animals and humans were created on the same day, there exists a special connection between them. What is this connection? Domestic animals can bring a lot of joy into a home and I have witnessed, first hand, the therapeutic effect dogs have on the sick and elderly. Horses too, I have heard, have a special therapeutic effect on people with cerebral palsy.
2. Like one of your commenters, Susan above, I too am confused by your comment that man was involved in his own creation. This is something that has never occurred to me before and whilst a quaint idea, may not be right. Why did G*d use the plural form when he said “Let us make man in our image”? Through your teachings I know that Elohim is plural and Adonai, singular. One view says the plural use is a reference to the Trinity – G*d the Father, Jesus Christ his son and the Holy Spirit – all of whom are different facets or appearances of the same G*d. For instance, from Genesis 1:2; Job 33:4 and Psalm 104:30, we know that G*d’s spirit was present at Creation. And from Colossians 1:6, we know that Jesus was also at work in the Creation. Yet, another view is that the plural wording was used to denote majesty. Kings and Queens often use the plural form in speaking of themselves.
With my very best wishes, Reid Corin, Cape Town, South Africa. Keep up your wonderful work.
Having animals around nearly always enhances life. Many parents of young boys especially learn how owning a dog benefits their son. While many people especially those living in 11th floor condominiums can’t keep horses, I am sure that many young girls dream of owning and caring for a horse.
No need for confusion on the “Let us.” Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that God expects us to play a key role in our own development. You want to get married? Praying to God is not enough. It is part of the strategy but insufficient. You must do it. Want to earn more money? God expects you to do it. Want to be a better father? Just do it. And this principle is established by the actual creation when God said “Let us make man..” Meaning Me and him….because every man (and woman) is going to be the product of what I created and what he achieved with his life.
Regarding your theory that “plural wording was used to denote majesty. Kings and Queens often use the plural form in speaking of themselves” there are no other instances in all of Tanach of that plural usage–it is unique to the creation of human beings. Thanks for writing.
“…the correct answer to each of the above three arguments is, “So what?”” I loved this line!
Thanks for writing Jacob–
I love hearing that you enjoyed the Thought Tool.
I wonder if Charles Darwin ever read the bible!
I am pretty sure he did. Firstly, in Origin of the Species he often mentions the Creator and second, for someone of his class in the mid 19th century, both at University of Edinburgh and at Cambridge, familiarity with the Bible would have been taken for granted.
Comment box limited my thoughts to a few sentences. You should have an app to”edit” the replies before publication. Please remove the out of kilter words before the “to Terry Sterling.”
you’ll see several commenters write much more than a few sentences so I am sorry you encountered a limit.
I am Catholic and I see more and more people who believe in God, but at the same time believe that animals have soul. Sadly, some of those people value animals more than humans.
Thanks for this great article!
It is incredibly seductive to suppose we have this deep mystical spiritual connection with animals but it is just secular primitivism at work. Think of the late Mr Treadwell who felt certain that 2,000 pound grizzlies felt the same deep love and affection for him as he felt for them. I suppose you could say, if you wanted to be guilty of very bad taste that the grizzlies did love Mr Treadwell in much the same way I love steak.
Terry Sterling…Your comments will be blown out of the water after reading the New York Times best seller, “Alex and Me.” A Harvard professor spent 31 years in relationship with “Alex,” an African Grey Parrot. Every major newspaper reported the bird’s early demise. Alan Alda’s interview with prof and the bird, and its aftermath , totally sheds new light on animals and their ability to communicate, count and interact “like people.”
I don’t plan on reading “Alex and Me” so if these questions are answered in that book, could you please summarize for me?
How did these animals learn their ability to communicate, count and interact like people? Did they teach themselves among their own species — birds teaching birds, etc. — or was it cross-species — dogs taught cats how to count like people? And are these animals multi-linguists or do they understand only the language of the person they’ve been most in contact with?
And what is their motivation for being able to communicate, count and interact just like people do? Does it provide the basic needs of food, shelter and clothing for their animal families as it does for people?
Isn’t the whole point that if you don’t believe in God then you have far less moral and social, especially sexual, responsibility to others?
That is the whole point. And if you can persuade yourself that you are nothing but a smooth skinned orangutan, then you can claim that anything you do is just your instinct–you can’t help yourself.
I’m confused by your statement that man was involved in his own creation.
Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that God expects us to play a key role in our own development. You want to get married? Praying to God is not enough. It is part of the strategy but insufficient. You must do it. Want to earn more money? God expects you to do it. Want to be a better father? Just do it. And this principle is established by the actual creation when God said “Let us make man..” Meaning Me and him….because every man (and woman) is going to be the product of what I created and what he achieved with his life.
Thank you Rabbi
I believe those people who are ignorant of the Bible elevate animals to a higher level than they were intended to be. I’m not sure why a person would want to be associated as akin to animals except that it allows them to justify their baser behavior. I do think many people prefer relationships with animals rather than humans because it does not require much effort to have a pet other than feed, bathe and walk them. They don’t talk back, so if you do converse with them they seem to agree with you on everything! Seriously, the argument that people are closely related to animals is absurd! If animals could rationalize like humans I am certain there would have been a revolt long ago. Elevating animals is just another way of demoralizing the human condition and of course far worse is how it disrespects our Holy Creator. I’ve heard you talk on this subject before. Never have I heard anyone give so much insight into this phenomenon. Very enjoyable.
Thanks for listening,
Wonderful write up. Shalom
I was dumbfounded when I read what that journalist said. Does he really think humans should do whatever their urges lead them to do and there should be no such thing as a moral or ethics code? If that journalist’s beliefs become not usual, hopefully there are enough that don’t share that person’s beliefs in order we don’t get a similar judgement as Sodom and Gomorrah received.
It has boggled my mind, especially since living in Western North Carolina for the last six years, how people idolize their animals. I LOVE my dog and have had her for 16 years next year, but she’s a dog. I will not push her in a cart. Buy outfits for her, put in her a buggy protector when shopping, etc. It is so disproportionate that you can be fined for smoking or vaping OUTDOORS, meanwhile a lady can be holding her dog feet away from your own table and meal???? Backwards to say the least. People seem to be so blinded in many more areas than just this. I feel like a freak at times because I refuse to conform.
Thank you for the nuggets of wisdom. This is quite informative.
We aim to please, Wale,
thanks for writing
WoW… Thanks so much for the insight.
You’re so welcome, Nestor,
I can see why the good people are leaving the West coast, the words Jesus come soon comes to my mind. There are other things I wish I could talk to you about, thank you Peter Vonk of Rose City Michigan
Thanks for writing Peter–
I’m sure we’d have much to discuss.
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