Baal Shem Tov, or Besht — the founder of Chasidism —
Ramak: "Love your fellow species like yourself"
Rabbi Moshe Cordovero (1522-1570) was the leading Kabbalist in Tzefat (Safed) during his time. He died just before Luria came to Tzefat from Egypt and turned Kabbalah and the Jewish world upside down. The Ramak (as the acronym formed from his name is pronounced) was one of the first to apply Kabbalah to ethics, and his work Tomer Devorah, which popularized the ethical intepretation of Kabbalah, is one of the most important Jewish books of ethics ever written. In Tomer Devorah, Moshe Cordovero teaches us the ways we can emulate God by emulating the Sefirot. He repeatedly extends ethical principles that we apply between people to the relationships between people and animals. Here are two examples (see another example, from Yehudah HeChasid, here):
[It is good medicine t'ruf'ah for a person] to honor the creatures nivra'im entirely, all of them, since he recognizes in them the quality of the Creator ma'alat haborei who "formed the human with wisdom" and so formed all creatures – the Wisdom of the Maker hayotser is in them, and one [can] see for himself that they are so very very honored, for the One who forms [them] cares for all...And it is evil in the eyes of the Holy One if they despise any creature briyah of his creatures, and this is what it means to say: Mah rabu ma'asekha "How great/diverse are your works" (Ps.104:4) - rabu is the language of rav beito (Esth. 1:8), that is, greatly important in [God's] house...and it is worthy for a person to understand Wisdom through them, without despising bizayon [any of them].... (end of chapter 2)
The Ramak applies standards and categories for human beings to other creatures in four ways in these passages. He specifically extends the phrase asher yatzar et ha'adam b'chokhmah, "who formed the human with wisdom" to other creatures. He says that every creature is rav, great, in God's house. In the context of the book of Esther this means "an official", but taken out of context, as Cordovero does, it means not only important but also "rabbi", intimating that every creature is or should be our teacher.
The expression Cordovero uses for proper slaughter, mitah yafah, is the most important example. The phrase mitah yafah derives from a Talmudic law found at Sanhedrin 45a and 52b that the court must choose a good or easy death for someone who is going to be executed for a capital crime. In the Talmud, this principle is derived directly from the commandment "Love your fellow like yourself". By appropriating this terminology, Cordovero concretely extends this principle of love to other animals.
He also expands human ethics when he emphasizes that one should not despise any creature. The language he uses, bizayon, relates directly to Pirkei Avot, where Ben Azai says, "Don't despise al t'hi baz any person, and don't reject any thing davar, for you have no a person who doesn't have his hour, and you have no thing that doesn't have its place." He davka uses the term related to human beings when he could have made his point with the term used for "things". *
Both of these passages are adjacent to passages that emphasize how important it is to love fellow human beings and to pray for their well-being. The integration of these two ethical dimensions is summed up in Cordovero's own words: "A person should constantly pray for mercy and blessing for the world."
* In doing so he is also building on Mekhilta, which interprets the law that one must go up to the altar by a ramp rather than steps (from Exodus) by saying: just as one should not despise the rocks, all the more so one should not despise one's fellow human beings.
David Seidenberg's JCarrot article on meat-eating quotes this passage from the Ramak. Read it here.
You can read all of Tomer Devorah on the Digital Brilliance website.
Posted by: Fran at October 17, 2008 4:06 PM
Design in progress © Rabbi David Mevorach Seidenberg 2006