As the horn of a ram or similar animal is taken to human lips this Friday, it would do us well to momentarily mute the Tekiah, Shevarim and Teruah that will be sounded throughout the month of Elul, and to focus on how a defense mechanism of a four legged creature ( horn) abuts a defense mechanism of a two legged human (mouth) and realize, that with but three exceptions (eating, voiding, and propagating) as pointed out by the Talmud, the similarity ends there.
Unlike an animal, a human being is born with a conscience. Human beings are capable of being able to distinguish right from wrong. It may have taken eating from the Tree of Knowledge for Adam and Eve to develop a conscience, but that conscience was quite evident soon after their regrettable repast. As soon as the first couple heard the sound of HaShem manifesting itself in the garden, Adam and Eve went and hid among the trees. Adam and Eve were aware that they had done something wrong and they attempted (in vain) to evade the consequences. Their son Cain had a conscience as well. In response to HaShem’s question, “Where is Abel your brother”? Cain, out of a sense of guilt, went on the defensive and retorted “am I my brother’s keeper”? Animals, in contradistinction to humans, were not designed to have consciences. If they did, then canines would be nowhere as loyal to humans, even when those humans are undeserving, and humans would not make a “tsimmes” when an animal shows care, concern and consideration for a human. How else would we explain humans resorting to the aphorism “bull in a china shop” in that the bovine creature is in no way aware of the havoc it creates. The very fact that we humans out of desperation (wrongly) refer to other humans lacking a conscience as “animals”, illustrates that we are very much aware that four legged creatures are devoid of a conscience.
It was the award winning Hebrew and Yiddish poet of Israel, Abba Kovner, who encouraged a new generation of Israelis to “remember the past, live the present and trust the future”. Humans become aware of the future at a tender age. That’s why it is not uncommon for a three-year old in our culture to express the following sentiment: “when I grow up…” Humans have the ability and are given the incentive to plan for the future. That’s why there are any number of investment firms touting their expertise in making your money grow, as they vie for your business; that’s why many jobs come with retirement plans where the employer matches the contribution or withholding on the part of the employee. Preparing for the future among animals is purely instinct. Squirrels forage for nuts to sustain them through the winter, independent of reading the Farmer’s Almanac. While I know nothing about how squirrels communicate with one another, I find it totally incredulous that squirrels would discuss the challenge of collecting nuts in any given year and then compare what it was like to collect nuts the previous year.
Our Talmudic sages were quick to point out (that unlike an animal) that ignorance of the law is no excuse. Stated differently, they maintained that humans should always consider themselves forewarned or responsible when it comes to injuries of others, as well as to damages to their property and estate. How much more so then is an individual’s responsibility to oneself! To be sure, our culture has a track record of destroying animals that have incurred harm. But such animals were destroyed because they were deemed dangerous. The only time responsibility serves as a factor is when that animal is owned by a human, or when that animal has a master. In either case, responsibility falls squarely upon the human, but never upon the animal.
Let the Tekiahs ring along with the Shevarim and Teruah. As they pierce the highest heavens, so too let them pierce the innermost depths of out heart and souls. Let us marvel at tough animal cartilage pressing up against the sensitive human lip. Let us appreciate the contrast between four- legged animal and the two-legged human. With the human, HaShem has every right to expect a conscience that distinguish between right and wrong, an ability to anticipate planning for the future and a keen sense of responsibility toward HaShem, one’s fellow man and oneself. Failure to do so will result in mere lip service.