Rabbi Benjamin Yudin
The Animals Within and Without
Reb Chaim Volozhiner in his Nefesh Hachaim (chapter 5) extols the potential of man. He cites the verse (Devarim 32:9) "for Hashem's portion is His people, Jacob is the measure of His inheritance". The noun in the verse is chevel which literally means a rope. Rashi understands the rope to consist of three strands, namely the merits of the three patriarchs. Nefesh Hachaim understands the rope to be suspended from heaven to Earth. When man tugs and pulls the rope in this world, it has consequences in the upper realms.
This is demonstrated in where Reb Chanina bar Pada's teaching (Brachos 35b) that if one eats without reciting the proper bracha he is stealing from Hashem and from the Jewish people. That he is stealing from Hashem is understood, as he is failing to proclaim His sovereignty over the world. In addition, he is stealing from the people of Israel because, Rashi explains, when man sins (as in the case of eating without a blessing) the fruit, its taste, and nutritional value become diminished. Such is the powerful impact of man on his natural environment.
It is most fascinating to note the relationship between man and his natural world. Interestingly, when man eats from the forbidden fruit, and then realizes he is naked, he covers himself with fig leaves. Rashi (Breishis 3:7 citing Brachos 40a) teaches that the fig tree is the tree from which he ate and from the very object of his sin came the remedy, i.e. his clothing. However, the other trees refused to allow him to take their leaves. Prior to his sin all of nature, man and the natural world around him, were in perfect sync and harmony, proudly unified in bringing honor and glory to Hashem. When man sinned it was an affront to all of nature, not just to man. His sinning brought about a negative change in the environment.
When Cain killed Hevel and was punished to be a wanderer, Cain protests to Hashem and cries out, (Breishis 4:14) "whoever meets me will kill me". Who is Cain afraid of being killed by? The only other humans around are his parents, and although they will be angry at him it is most unlikely that they will kill him! The Ramban therefore answers that Cain feared being killed by the animals, since he broke the peaceful nature of the natural world, he understood that now the animals would also turn violent and kill him. There is an ideal balance in the natural world with man.
One may suggest it all started when Hashem declared on the sixth day of creation (Breishis 1:28), "na'aseh adam - let us make man." Rashi explains the challenging "us" as referring to the angels with whom Hashem consulted prior to making man. The Zohar (Pinchas 219) understands this to mean that Hashem was addressing all of creation and said, "I will take something from everything, from all the animals, all the different characteristics and together form man as a composite of all of nature."
I believe this can help us understand Yehuda ben Teima's statement (Avos 5:23), "be bold as a leopard, light as an eagle, swift as a deer, and brave as a lion, to perform the will of your Father in Heaven". Why does he need to associate each trait with an animal? Why not simply say be swift, bold, and strong? Perhaps he is reminding us that we can do it, since part of the strength of the animals is in each of us.
In the beginning of Parshas Noach (Breishis 6:12) mankind is given a humiliating blow by being referred to as "meat" when Hashem announces, "for all flesh has corrupted its way upon the earth". This most demeaning referral is repeated again in (6:17). Rashi, citing (Sanhedrin 108a) teaches that even the beasts, animals and birds were acting in an immoral way, mating outside their own species. How can this be? After all, the animals have their own natural order and do not have a yetzer harah - evil inclination!
The Beis Halevi in his opening discourse on Parshas Noach teaches that man's actions have global consequences. His actions not only effect himself, his neighbors, and his immediate environment, but have a ripple effect upon the entire world. This is further substantiated by the Nefesh Hachaim (chapter 3) who cites several teachings of our Rabbis including the Talmud's (Brachos 64a) famous comment, "'and all your children will be students of Hashem, and your children will have peace'(Isaiah 54:13) Do not understand only 'your children', but as 'your builders'". Reb Chaim understands this to mean that man's actions either build or destroy the world. Since all of creation is centered within man, when man degrades himself it is reflected by, and has reverberations in, the natural world.
As we said earlier, in Parshas Noach man is referred to as basar-meat. The greatness of Avraham is the, "nefesh Asher asu B'Charan - the souls they made in Charan" (Bereshis 12:5.) Rashi (citing Sanhedrin 99b) explains that Avraham converted the men and Sarah the women. We don't find anywhere, however, these "converts" acceptance of Torah and mitzvos, so what type of conversion was this? Perhaps, as Rav Amiel z"li> in his Hegyonos el Ami suggests, Avraham and Sarah taught mankind that man is not to be viewed as basar-meat, but as nefesh - a spiritual being. He has the ability, by uniting his body and soul, to bring about harmony in nature. Marriage is, as Avraham said to Sarah, "and that my soul may live on account of you" (Bereishis 12:13), i.e. the uniting of two individuals in sanctity, bringing harmony in the home and thus by extension to the rest of creation.
Much of our woes are attributed to global warming. I believe if man would only look inward and take responsibility for the immorality of our society, for the breakdown of the sacred family structure, it would do more to restore the balance of nature and man. We all yearn for the days of (Isaiah 11:6), "a wolf will dwell with a sheep". The Torah provides us with a path to reach that state: restore the harmony and balance in nature, and be moral.