21 Av 5780 / Tuesday, August 11, 2020 | Torah Reading: Re'eh
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Fear of Animals    

Fear of Animals

Since man is the prime of creation, he has the innate potential to rule over creation. His slightest fear of any creation is an indication that his emuna is not yet whole...


The Torah teaches us that man is the most important of creations; he was therefore created last. The animals were created as a preparation for him, to assist with all his needs, providing him with labor, food, transportation, clothing, shoes and more. Both the written and oral Torahs therefore speak about animals and man's connection with them. The Torah also elaborates on animal rights and prevention of cruelty to animals. Like every other creation, each animal fulfills a specific purpose.
According to the Zohar, the purpose of every creation is to help heighten our awareness of the Creator. A person begins to get close to Hashem as soon as he realizes how sorely limited he is and that he is dependent on the Creator for everything. But since humans easily forget their true proportion, and because of arrogance and ego they perceive themselves in an overinflated stature, Hashem created many ways to stimulate a person's desire to seek humility and emuna. One of these stimuli is the animal kingdom, particularly the animals in our environment. A person's fear of animals quickly deflates his arrogance, bringing his ego back to a level of humility where it should be.
Throughout my life, I have met many individuals who were afraid of dogs. They'd see a tiny miniature poodle or chihuahua as a roaring lion. Others, surprising as it may seem, are afraid of cats. The view a kitten as if it were a tiger. Still others have strong aversions to crows, mice, rats, snakes and/or scorpions.
The phenomenon of man's fear of animals reminds us of our futility, the result of our drifting away from emuna that led to a blemish in our Divine image. By virtue of man's being created in the Divine image, all the animals, birds, insects and reptiles should fear him; indeed, he should have no fear of them. Just because most people have fear of wild animals, for example, that doesn't mean that it's natural to fear them. If our emuna were unblemished, we wouldn't even have to fear man-eating animals like lions and bears. Since man is the prime of creation, he has the innate potential to rule over creation. His slightest fear of any creation is an indication that his emuna is not yet whole (see Likutei Moharan I:15). The more a person lacks emuna, the more he or she resembles an animal.

Hashem says on the sixth day of creation, "Let us make man in Our image and in Our likeness" (Genesis 1:26). Shortly afterwards, Hashem blessed the male and female He had created and says, "Rule over the fish of the sea, the bird of the sky, and every living thing that moves on the earth" (ibid, 28). We must ask ourselves: how in the world are we supposed to prevail over the birds of the sky and the fish of the sea? What gives mankind supremacy over the entire animal kingdom, especially when many of the animal species are stronger and swifter than man?

The Divine image that emanates from an upright human being is what gives him sovereignty over the birds, fish and animals. By way of the upright human – the prime of creation – the other creations attain their soul correction and fulfill their purpose on earth. But, when a human acts in an animalistic manner rather that in a righteous manner, not only does he lose his sovereignty over the other creatures, but he develops a fear of them.
Several of the ten plagues consisted of animals and other living creatures, such as the plagues of the frogs, the wild animals, and the lice. Since the Egyptians were notorious for their promiscuity, behavior that is even worse than animalistic, Hashem wanted to show them that the animals are capable of prevailing over them.
In sharp contrast to the wanton Egyptians, the great tzaddikim exercised total control over the wildest and fiercest of animals. Daniel emerged unscathed from a den of hungry and ferocious lions. Cruel ravens carried food to Elijah the Prophet. King David as a young boy subdued a bear and a lion. The king of Morocco had the holy Rabbi Chaim ben Attar thrown into a lion's den, yet in the presence of this prodigious tzaddik, the lions only purred like kittens. Rabbi Yaacov Abuchatzera encountered a lion in the desert; the lion carried Rabbi Yaacov on its back and took the tzaddik to where he needed to go. The Shunamite woman knew that the prophrt Elisha was a true tzaddik, for despite the fact that there were many flies in her area, no flies came near Elisha's room.
Rashi elaborates on the above concept of man's ability to prevail over the entire animal kingdom. He emphasizes that man's power comes from a strong emanation of Divine light that reflects from the soul of a righteous individual. But, if a person lives a life of arrogance and heresy, he sinks beneath the level of the animals and they control him. Man's fear of animals or other living things is a reminder that he needs to strengthen his emuna.

Since the animal kingdom is designed to be subservient to man, when it is not, then man must correct the blemish in his Divine image. King Solomon therefore teaches that when Hashem is pleased with a person's ways, even his adversaries reconcile with him. In other words, when a person walks in the path of righteousness, even such bothersome creatures as flies and mosquitoes won't disturb him. Indeed, a righteous person with emuna fears a lion no more than he fears a mosquito. May we all attain such a level, amen!

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