Yoni Mozeson
Yoni Mozeson

Mankind – The perfect blend of angels and animals 

According to Midrash Rabbah, Mankind is a hybrid of the upper and lower worlds. We resemble animals in the fact that we need nourishment to survive. We have the ability to procreate, excrete waste, and we live for a finite period of time. Needless to say, in the upper world of angelic beings, none of these are true. They cannot procreate. They have no need for nourishment nor do they excrete waste material. Angels are also immortal.  However, Mankind was given 4 attributes from the upper world which animals don’t have. We are able to stand upright and speak. (For those of you who think that animals do indeed speak, some commentaries say that the Midrash meant that Mankind has the ability to speak Hebrew). Finally, we are able to learn and reason, and see just like angels. Before we delve into what cognitive abilities we share with the angels, here is the original source in Midrash Rabbah (8:11):

רַבִּי יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בַּר נְחֶמְיָה בְּשֵׁם רַבִּי חֲנִינָא בַּר יִצְחָק וְרַבָּנָן בְּשֵׁם רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר אָמְרֵי, בָּרָא בוֹ אַרְבַּע בְּרִיּוֹת מִלְּמַעְלָה, וְאַרְבַּע מִלְּמַטָּן, אוֹכֵל וְשׁוֹתֶה כִּבְהֵמָה, פָּרָה וְרָבָה כִּבְהֵמָה, וּמַטִּיל גְּלָלִים כִּבְהֵמָה, וּמֵת כִּבְהֵמָה. מִלְּמַעְלָה, עוֹמֵד כְּמַלְאֲכֵי הַשָּׁרֵת, מְדַבֵּר כְּמַלְאֲכֵי הַשָּׁרֵת, יֵשׁ בּוֹ דַּעַת כְּמַלְאֲכֵי הַשָּׁרֵת, וְרוֹאֶה כְּמַלְאֲכֵי הַשָּׁרֵת

The perfect mix to meet our potential in this world

What exactly was God’s intention in creating humans as a hybrid of angels and animals?

I believe this statement from the primary commentary to Midrash Rabbah, the Eitz Yoseph, helps to unlock the answer. Commenting on the difficult phrase  above יֵשׁ בּוֹ דַּעַת כְּמַלְאֲכֵי הַשָּׁרֵת, וְרוֹאֶה כְּמַלְאֲכֵי הַשָּׁרֵת “Man has intellect like angels and sees like angels,” he says “שכלית אמתית בהכרת קונו מעניני העולם . Mankind possesses “a true wisdom to recognize our Creator from within everyday occurrences.” I take that to mean that we can feel God’s presence in our routine of work and interpersonal relations, in our awareness of the world around us – science, nature, history, etc. Like Angels, we were given the ability to see the world through the prism of God. Now let’s apply this concept to a beautiful, poetic piece from Midrash Rabbah. One that seems to provide the answer as to why God chose to make us from both the upper and lower realms: 

  אָמַר הַקָּבָּ”ה, אִם בּוֹרֵא אֲנִי אוֹתוֹ מִן הָעֶלְיוֹנִים הוּא חַי וְאֵינוֹ מֵת, מִן הַתַּחְתּוֹנִים הוּא מֵת וְאֵינוֹ חַי, אֶלָּא הֲרֵי אֲנִי בּוֹרֵא אוֹתוֹ מִן הָעֶלְיוֹנִים וּמִן הַתַּחְתּוֹנִים, אִם יֶחְטָא יָמוּת, וְאִם לֹא יֶחְטָא יִחְיֶה

God said, if I create them from the upper realms, Mankind would live and never die. If from the lower realms, Mankind would die and never live. Rather I will create them from both the upper and lower realms. If they carry out misdeeds, they will die, If they refrain from misdeeds they will live.”

I believe this is the meaning of the Midrash’s divine paradox: 

If Mankind was only made from the higher realms, we will not experience life’s hardships, challenges, and the opportunity for growth. As immortal beings we would be stuck in a static, albeit exalted state. 

On the other hand, if Mankind was exclusively made from the animal kingdom with no elements of the divine within us, then that too has its problems. Our life on earth will more closely resemble death because we would not have the spiritual IQ to grow from the hardships and challenges that are a natural part of the lower realms.  The awareness of God gives us the potential to receive God’s messages and make course corrections. If life has no potential to be exalted. It will be of no consequence. 

The compromise

The hybrid that God chose puts us squarely in the lower realms which is full of hardships and setbacks. However,  we also possess an upper-realm, angelic perspective on life which turns our challenges into opportunities for growth. We have the ability to find God in both the lofty and the mundane.

As the Midrash said, with ennobling actions, we can truly live even if we eventually die. This is far better than a life void of meaning which renders us dead, even while we are alive.

About the Author
After college and Semicha at Yeshiva University my first pulpit was Ogilvy where I wrote TV commercials for brands like American Express, Huggies and Duracell. My passion is Midrash Tanchuma. I am an Architect of Elegant Marketing Solutions at www.mindprintmarketing.com. We are living in (where else) the Nachlaot neighborhood of Jerusalem.
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