My father-in-law Murray November has become enamored with photographing animals at the Los Angeles Zoo. Inspired initially by Or Ami pADT president and master photographer Michael Kaplan, Murray now spends long afternoons at the zoo and even longer hours in front of the computer editing his photographs.
His animals are captivating.
To look at Murray’s animals is to witness the energy, heart and – dare I say – soul that animates these creations of the Holy One. They remind us of our responsibility to care for all creatures.
Jewish Responsibility to Care for Animals
Genesis chapters 1 and 2 give humanity dominion balanced by stewardship over all Creation including the animals. Talmud quickly comes to caution us about tzaar baale chayim (literally “the woe/pain of living things”, but meaning more generally “the prevention of cruelty to animals“). We humans are to be shomrei adamah (guardians of the earth), caring for all of the Source of Life’s creations, including and especially animals.
Jacob, Moses and King David were all shepherds, people who cared for animals (Gen. 30, Ex. 31, I Sam. 17). Rebecca was chosen as Isaac’s wife because of her chesed (kindness) to animals at the well (Gen. 24). The Midrash (Exodus Rabbah 2:2) tells that Moses was chosen for his mission because of his deviction to caring for animals: The Holy One, Blessed Be God, said “Since you are merciful to the flock of a human being, you shall be the shepherd of My flock, Israel.”
In fact, ancient historian Josephus highlights the differences between Jewish and ancient gentile attitudes about animals:
“King Herod also got together a great quantity of wild beasts, and of lions in very great abundance, and of such other beasts as were either of uncommon strength or of such a sort as were rarely seen. These were trained either to fight one with another, or men who were condemned to death were to fight with them. And truly foreigners were greatly surprised and delighted at the vast expenses of the shows, and at the great danger of the spectacles, but to the Jews it was a palpable breaking up of those customs for which they had so great a veneration [emphasis mine].” (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews).
The rabbis argue about whether animals have a soul. I side with those who recognize the soulfulness of these beautiful creatures. If you look closely, you can’t miss it.
Experience the Life-force of Amazing Animals
So pause and be pensive with the ape.
Stare into the inquisitive seal’s face.
Wonder what the jaguar spies.
Sense the wisdom from the turtle’s life lived long.
And be amazed that Murray’s pictures open us to the soulful presence of these beautiful creatures as they remind us to the Presence of the Holy One of Creation.
What do you see in the animals’ faces?