- Category: DO NOT EAT THE LIMB OF A LIVING ANIMAL
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Balaam, Adam & Noah
The Sefer Chassidim9 also understands the story of Balaam as referring to the prohibition of tzaar baalei chaim. However, the Sefer Chassidim offers a fascinating insight into the mitzvah:
A person is punished for any actions that cause suffering to his fellow. This is even if one causes needless suffering to an animal; for example, if one places upon it a burden so heavy that it [the animal] cannot walk and he then hits it. In the future, such a person will have to give an accounting for this, for causing suffering to animals is a biblical prohibition. As it is written by Balaam: “Why did you strike your donkey?” As punishments often correspond to the crime, because Balaam said “If there was a sword in my hand I would kill you right now!” he was himself killed by the sword [see Joshua 13:22]. The warning is learned from the fact that Noahides were not commanded in “dominion.” Adam, who was not allowed to eat meat, was given dominion over the animals. However, Noah, who was given permission to eat meat, was not given dominion.
Elucidating the Sefer Chassidim
The Sefer Chassidim connects the prohibition against cruelty to animals to the permission given to Noah to eat meat and to the blessings given to Noah and Adam. At first glance, the Sefer Chassidim’s intent is a little unclear. Let us start by comparing the blessings given to Adam and to Noah:
The Blessing Given to Adam
And God blessed them and God said to them: “Be fruitful and multiply, replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that creeps upon the earth.”10
Compare the language of this blessing very carefully to that of the blessing given to Noah
The Blessing Given to Noah
And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them: “Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth. And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, and upon all that teems upon the ground, and upon all the fishes of the sea: into your hand are they delivered.”11
The Midrash12 notes a significant change in language in these two passages:
Fear and dread returned [after the flood], but not dominion.
In the blessing to Adam, God granted man dominion over all other life on earth. God’s blessing to Noah is virtually identical, except that God did not grant Noah dominion. Rather, He only instilled the fear of man upon the other creatures of the world.
In God’s original vision of creation man was given the world for domination as a king rules over his dominion. In this state, Adam’s task was to preserve the order and well-being of the world created for him. His power over the lesser creatures was intrinsic: Adam was given dominion. It appears that as a king Adam was not permitted to eat meat – doing so would be to eat his own subjects!
However, this divine vision was corrupted beyond all measure:
And God saw the earth and, behold, it was corrupted, for all flesh had corrupted its way upon the earth.13
Man debased himself and lost his position as a ruler. In the blessing to Noah, we see that man’s inherent “dominion” was replaced with “fear and dread.”
As we see from the above-cited Midrash and its commentaries that before the flood man was feared because of his inherent dominion. After the flood God placed the fear-of-man upon the animals because man lost his dominion.
At this point man was, for lack of a better way of putting it, only “the top of the food chain” and not a ruler. Therefore, man could eat animals. However, unlike a ruler, man was not allowed to do with the animals as he saw fit.
Eating meat and the prohibition of causing suffering are both, therefore, signs of man’s debasement and lowered position following the flood.14
10. Genesis 1:28
11. Genesis 9:2.
12. Bereshis Rabbah 34:12.
13 Genesis 6:12.
14 This understanding of the Sefer Chassidim sits well. However, it is not 100% clear this is the intended understanding of the Sefer Chassidim. There are other possible explanations.