What could Hosea possibly mean in his words that this week’s Haftarah for Shabbat Beh-midbar reminds us of? – ‘’And I will seal a covenant for them on that day with the animal of the field and the bird of the heavens and the creeping thing of the ground’’ (2:20), the very fauna that — for whatever mysterious reasons — God allowed the post-deluge Noah to kill for food (per Genesis 9:3); for ‘’into your hands are they delivered’’, though never ever commanding him to do so?
Henceforth, all animals and birds began to fear and dread humans, though man too was seized by fright of certain animals. Thus, we find Esau, a skilled hunter, spurning his birthright as Isaac’s eldest son, because “I am at the point to die; and what profit shall the birthright do to me?’’ he thought. Esau, in other words, had anticipated his own demise by animals whom he had harvested for food.
And similarly, when Job’s friend, Elifaz, envisions that the painfully shattered life of his friend will be restored to its former state of success, he predicts that Job ‘’will not fear the animal of the earth’’ and that such wild animals ‘’will be at peace with you’’ (Job 5:22-27); Elifaz evidently betrays a fear of animals that was ubiquitous among humans, who had turned their weaponry on animals since Noah was permitted to harvest them upon his disembarkation from the ark.
Nevertheless, such a mutual fear between fauna and humans was not a normative state but a radical departure from the amity between them which had prevailed from the first appearance of humans in the Torah; indeed, God forbade the latter to kill animals for food (or for whatever other reason), a prohibition that lasted ten generations until God’s permission to do so upended it when humanity’s life on land was restored after the flood.
Isaiah expands on Hosea’s call this week for a divinely sealed covenant between humanity and the entire animal kingdom, by asserting that such an idyllic harmony between fauna and humans shall be renewed and restored to its pristine brotherhood. Thus, the predatory animals, e.g., ‘’the wolf shall dwell with a sheep, the leopard lie down with a kid; calf and a young lion and fatling together, [even as] a little child leads them, a cow and a bear shall graze together and their children shall lie down together, [whilst] a lion, like livestock, shall eat hay [rather than prey]. And a nursing child shall play over a cobra’s hole, and a weaned child shall reach [and tap repeatedly over it] with his hand into an adder’s nest’’ (11: 6-8).
Bible scholar Yair Zakovich points out that such intra-species harmony will even be gentler than the original state of affairs in the aftermath of creation when the humans were charged with dominating the animal kingdom; in Isaiah’s vision such ‘’mastering’’ of animals will shift from adults to children. Carnivore animals’ sustenance will revert back to plants only — as it was even in the jam-packed Noah’s ark — and as such erstwhile predatory animals will no longer prey on others. Even the ‘’new’’ snake will not resemble the sly serpent that triggered the eviction of humanity from the Garden of Bliss, thus entailing the perpetual enmity between humans and snakes. As Yair Zakovich notes the ‘’new’’ snake – as in Isaiah’s vision — is not to be seen outside its hole, nor will the snake’s voice be heard as it was in the Garden. And although a small child will actively play unfretted and fearlessly at the opening of the snake’s nest, no encounter, let alone an adverse one, will occur.
Such a restored Edenic rapport that will reverse the current state of ‘’red in tooth and claw’’ is then a foreseeable reality that deserves its realization, say Isaiah and Hosea. It will be the fulfilment of God’s pledge to ”…cause-to-cease wild animals from the land’’ (Leviticus 26:6) when humans will no longer seek to kill or harm other species, nor will they view those species as a menace that is poised to hurt or harm them, even — as Radak observes — by eating up the fruits and increase of the earth. It will be a return to the past with a proven record attested by a new covenant of peace, as Hosea prophesied. Both humans and animals will thus become full participants in a covenant with God ‘’for in respect of the fate of man and the fate of animal, they have one and the same fate; as the one die so the other, and both have the same life breath; man has no superiority over animal’’ (Ecclesiastes 3:19).
Should humans await passively for the restoration of such Edenic times or take action proactively to gear themselves for the human-fauna covenant which Hosea envisions? Rav Abraham Isaac Kook ascribed God’s permission to humans to kill animals for food to ”the state of man’s broken-down soul” that ”craves to eat meat” and does so desirously, without any ”internal opposition from its sentiments of good and justice” (or from his ”sublime morality”), as to abstain, therefore, from robbing ”a living and sentient soul just for his craving-based need”. Rav Kook believed that the role of Mitzvoth was ”to educate humans and instill in them the sensitivity and proper attitude against the very killing of animals for the purpose of satiating man’s craving, and as a result shun doing so out of shame”. Rav Kook taught that the relevant Mitzvoth should ”work themselves to man’s soul so eventually he would fix his actions and take pity on animals in the spirit of Psalm 145:9: ”The Eternal One is good to all; compassionate to all creation”, opting not to kill them for merely slaking his desires.
Underlying Rav Kook’s theology on this matter is that many of the Mitzvoth were meant to lead people to realize that slaying animals is fundamentally wrong in principle; in Messianic times (to which both Isaiah and Hosea aim their respective messages) Israel will lead the rest of humanity to a new and utopian world — albeit one that actually had already existed in the first ten generations — in which no creature would eat one another. Or in the words of Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, a student of Rav Kook’s teachings: “Our natural sentiment of mercy towards animals ought to be cultivated; though we are presently accustomed to eat of their flesh, we should be aware that this is not the ideal and it is incumbent on us to try and ease up the pain inflicted on food animals. When the world reaches its redemption humans would merit and ascend to Adam’s level and will not have to hurt animals and eat of their flesh.’’
Should we then wait passively for the world to be first redeemed before a divinely orchestrated covenant between humanity and fauna is sealed, or do anything to bring it about? Awaiting redemption has long proven its utter futility; ”meanwhile”, it is incumbent on us to plant that sapling even if the Messiah is at the city’s gate and do what we deem to be good and worthy, even if it means to lessen and minimize the extent of gratuitous pain and agony that humanity has brought down upon the animal kingdom since God permitted Noah to harvest animals for food.
Last but not least, ideally speaking, people could well suffice with plant-based food; when they effectively did so from Adam’s generation to Noah’s their lifespan was measurably longer than in the aftermath of God’s sanctioning of meat eating, when human longevity continuously shrank (as per Genesis 11:10-32).