Yossi Feintuch

Man fails and animals pay

It has taken ten generations of humanity to devolve morally for God to see and confirm “that the evil of the human creature was great on the earth and that every form of his heart’s planning was only perpetually evil. And the Lord regretted having made the human on earth and was grieved to the heart.”

This grim reality, according to this weekly Torah portion, Noah, would entail a divine plan to “blot out” from the face of the earth “both humans and cattle to crawling things to the fowl of the heavens for I regret that I have made them.” In other words, the non-human (land) animals are to be wiped out — except the lucky pairs of each species that would survive on Noah’s ark — as a result of man’s gruesome behavior.

Though God did not regret the creation of non-human animals, they too would be paying with their own life for the divinely exacted comeuppance for the woes of humankind.

And while they did not commit the evil that man did, fauna’s own fate was effectively hinged on humanity’s failed moral track record; the animals too would perish consequently in the forthcoming flood as collateral “damage” for man’s depravity.

Such a knock-on effect on animals, if not their demise, resulting from man’s comeuppance that God unleashed, is evidenced in numerous biblical episodes from the axiomatic demise of animals in the ‘’firebombed’’ sinful twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, to the “bloodying up” of the River Nile that caused the extinction of the fish in the river in the first of the ten plagues which God had wielded to force the Pharaoh to let the Israelite people go.

Soon thereafter also the frogs perished, soon followed by Egyptian livestock that were first pestered by lice and swarms of insects before being decimated by the plague of “heavy pestilence’’. Boils and blains soon broke forth ‘’upon man and upon animal’’, likely Bilharzia that had spread from humans to animals who had survived the pestilence.

The plague of hail exacted a horrifying toll from Egypt’s surviving fauna too, as did the striking down of the firstborn among the animals as well. A week later the drowning of a great number of Egypt’s finest horses in the Red Sea ensued, all resulting from God’s lashing out at man for his heinous misdeeds.

Like in Jericho under Joshua’s command that was set afire as is, King Saul was ordered by the Seer Samuel to dispatch the whole nation of Amalek, a fate that had indeed fallen on their animals as well.

Jonah’s indifference, if not his active desire to witness how God scuppers Nineveh, both humans and inexorably the cattle too, drives God to chastise his callous prophet: “Should I not take pity on the great city of Nineveh…and [its] many animals as well?” Those animals would have also been devastated had not the Ninevites repented their immoralities thus entailing God’s forgiveness.

It is in this sense that we can better understand God’s charge to Adam – the first two earthlings, that is, (per Genesis 5:2) – to wield enlightened (or humane) dominion over the fauna under man’s impact, for the welfare of animals depended heavily on human actions.

The forthcoming colossal flood that would obliterate essentially all land or winged fauna, except those that were in the ark, attests to man’s adverse and acute effect on the wellbeing of innocent animals.

About the Author
Ordained a Rabbi by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1994; in 2019 this institution accorded me the degree of Doctor of Divinity, honoris causa. Following ordination I served congregations on the island of Curacao, in Columbia, MO. Currently serving a congregation in Bend, Or. I received academic degrees from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem (B.A. in International Relations and History), New York University (M.A. in History), and Emory University (Ph.D. in U.S. History). I am the author of U.S. Policy on Jerusalem (Greenwood Press), and numerous articles on biblical themes in various print and digital publications. I have taught in several academic institutions, including Ben-Gurion University (Beersheba, Israel), and the University of Missouri (Columbia, MO). A native of Afula, Israel. A veteran of the IDF.
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