Ben-Tzion Spitz
Former Chief Rabbi of Uruguay

Humans in the Zoo

“Man is the Only Animal that Blushes. Or needs to.” – Mark Twain (1835 – 1910)

During the intermediate days (Chol Hamoed) of Passover it seems as if every mobile Israeli and tourist leaves their home and invades every road, mall and any available public place in astonishing numbers. I had the opportunity to visit, along with many thousands of others, the “Safari” of Ramat Gan, which proved to be insightful regarding both humans and animals.

Perhaps I have been the victim of too many Disney movies but I perceived (or imagined) a certain intelligence in the eyes of the creatures staring back at me through the fences, glass walls or enclosures that were the prison and homes of the objects of our curiosity. This was in stark contrast to the mindless hordes of humans plodding through the labyrinth of the zoo, moving from watering hole to watering hole, ravenously consuming vast amounts of unleavened products and instinctively herding their young past captured mammals, reptiles and fowl.

Many of the zoo-dwellers were exotic, unfamiliar or just plain frightening to a simple city-dweller. Only the petting-zoo had familiar domesticated animals – mammals of medium size and calm disposition with which I could feel a certain amount of comfort or even closeness – the calf, the sheep, the goat.

The Ohr Hachayim (Leviticus 9:8) claims that our connection to the animal world is more than just taxonomical, especially when we sin. He claims that when we sin, when we do the wrong thing, we are behaving like animals. We are letting our instincts and baser desires rule us and are abandoning the unique human quality of rational self-will. In a sense we become animals.

Therefore, as a remedy for our sin, it is only reasonable that an animal become part of our repentance. An animal is sacrificed. The life of an animal represents our animal selves that sinned and that animal is killed on God’s altar. The act of connecting with and then bringing a sacrifice is meant to nullify or at least weaken our animal selves and reaffirm our human aspect, our human nobility, our human free-will and destiny.

May we break free from the zoo of animalistic behaviors and walk tall and proud as proper homo sapiens.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,



To the wider Spitz clan, for an enjoyable, memorable and human-strengthening Pesach. And to the complete and speedy recovery of all the recently injured.

About the Author
Ben-Tzion Spitz is the former Chief Rabbi of Uruguay. He is the author of six books of Biblical Fiction and hundreds of articles and stories dealing with biblical themes. He is the publisher of Torah.Works, a website dedicated to the exploration of classic Jewish texts, as well as TweetYomi, which publishes daily Torah tweets on Parsha, Mishna, Daf, Rambam, Halacha, Tanya and Emuna. Ben-Tzion is a graduate of Yeshiva University and received his Master’s in Mechanical Engineering from Columbia University.
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