21 Av 5780 / Tuesday, August 11, 2020 | Torah Reading: Re'eh
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Every Creature is My Teacher    

Every Creature is My Teacher

Since every creation is a product of Divine wisdom, says Rebbe Nachman of Breslev, then we can find Divine wisdom within each creation. Every creature has a unique trait...


Translated by Rabbi Lazer Brody
Our sages teach us that there are many lessons to be learned from living creatures. For instance, an ant is extremely industrious, yet it will never touch a grain kernel that another ant previously took possession of. Since ants never steal or swindle, the presence of ants in a person's domain is a sign that he has taken something that doesn't belong to him. Mice, on the other hand, take what doesn't belong to them. As such, seeing mice in one's domain is an indication that he hasn't been careful about giving a tithe of his income to charity. Flies and mosquitoes are prevalent in an unclean habitat; their presence indicates a deficiency in personal holiness. Dogs growl at people who speak lashon hara, evil speech. One can learn courage from a lion, persistence from a bull and dedication from frogs. The Gemara adds that one learn marital fidelity from a pigeon, modesty from from a cat and chivalry from a rooster.
Since every creation is a product of Divine wisdom, says Rebbe Nachman of Breslev, then we can find Divine wisdom within each creation. Rebbe Nachman told his pupils, “True, you are upright, but I want you to be like the animals who roar in the forest all night long.” Rebbe Nachman meant that he wanted his pupils to spend hours calling out to Hashem in personal prayer, just like a wolf or a coyote in the woods at night.
Rebbe Shimon ben Elazar said, “I never saw a deer that was a farm worker, a lion that was a porter or a fox that was a storekeeper! Yet, they make a living with no sorrow. And, they were created in order to serve me and I was created in order to serve my Creator. So, if they were created to serve me and they're making a living with no problem, then shouldn't I be making a living with no problem, especially since I was created to serve my Creator? But what happened, my misdeeds spoil my income" (Tractate Kiddushin, 82b). This passage from the Gemara is an example of the lessons we can and must learn from Hashem's creations.
Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto prefaced his classic work "The Path of the Just" an admonishment that man should make an effort to be, at least, no worse than the animals. The animals protect themselves and avoid danger. Yet, man is often headstrong, following his appetites and bodily lusts even when they are clearly detrimental to body and soul. Many things he does, from needless credit-card purchases to exposing himself to unwholesome images, cause long-term damage. Since an animal never harms itself, unthinking humans who fail to protect themselves are worse than animals.
Animals are never ingrates, either. When the prophet admonishes the nation for failing to be grateful to Hashem, he says, "The ox knows its Creator and the donkey knows its master's feed trough" (Isaiah 1:3). People, on the other hand, frequently fail to recognize and appreciate the favors that others do for them.
Animals do things for a purpose. They'll only kill for self-preservation or in order to eat. Yet, people will kill for power or prestige. An animal copulates for the purposes of reproduction and for the survival of its specie. People do so for the sake of lust and uncontrolled bodily urges. Many have no qualms about ruining other peoples' families in the process.
Elihu asks Job (Job 35:11), "Who makes us wiser than the beasts of the land and the birds of the sky?" We must therefore look for the intrinsic wisdom in every creation, learning from each specie. The Tikunei Zohar tells us that when our sages of old would hear the cawing of crows, they would ponder teshuva. Elijah the Prophet teaches that the sages of old could also discern between a dog barking good tidings or evil tidings. Every creation teaches us how to get close to Hashem. In that way, every creature is our teacher.

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