The Wild World Went Wrong

There is a fascinating discussion in the Talmud regarding the blessing that God gives when the people follow His Torah. "And I will cause the bad animals (i.e. dangerous ones) to cease from the land." Rabbi Yehuda opines that they will migrate elsewhere. Lions and tigers and bears (oh my) will relocate, and there will be no animals to fear in the Land of Israel. Rabbi Shimon, on the other hand, claims the animals will all remain, but cease to be dangerous, in the spirit of "The lion will lie down with the lamb."

Ramban endorses this view, and brings a number of supports. The main one is his claim that animals, by their very nature, are NOT carnivores at all. In the creation story, God says that he has given the animals the "grasses and vegetables" to eat. Only after the flood did it become permissible for humans to consume flesh. All creation, in its natural state, is vegetarian.

So what changed? Man. Man introduced violence into the world. Man cause a ripple in the peaceful fabric of life. Man corrupted the animals. Honi the Circle maker once encountered a venomous creature. Honi touched it, and it died. He explained to his amazed friends that, "It is sin that kills, not the animals." Man has a transformative power over nature, and this power is exercised by man's moral behavior.

What is the deeper meaning of this debate between Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Shimon? Why does one see the animals leaving, while the other sees them being transformed?

After the flood, man became permitted to eat meat. Why this change? Rabbi Dr. Avraham Twerski, in his book "Spirituality," questions why a person would hate someone they had never met or known. Why is there something called "Sin'at hinam," baseless hatred?

It is because of the subconscious. The subconscious functions with the assumption that the part equals the whole. Thus, if one aspect of a person triggers a negative response, e.g. someone I just met has the same family name as a bitter enemy, we immediately develop a subconscious dislike of that person. It isn't fair at all, but it is how we work. What is needed to be done is for the conscious to overrule the subconscious.

There is a technique called "sublimation." This means taking a bad urge and channeling it into an accepted activity. Someone with an inner hostility, for example, might be great at sports, rather than working as a hit man. In these cases, the subconscious continues to exist, but the conscious channels it in a healthier way.

That is why God allowed man to eat flesh, in order to sublimate his violent subconscious urges in a healthier way. In an ideal world, however, the subconscious is transformed. And as man goeth, so goeth the wild kingdom. Sublimation is important, but it is a compromise. It is not a transformation. That only comes when Israel becomes completely committed to God's Law and morality. Then, the world is truly transformed.

Thus, Rabbi Yehuda is dealing with the world as it is. The best we can hope for is sublimation, and thus the "bad" animals will have to leave. Rabbi Shimon sees a perfect world, and thus claims the animals will change, because man will change. We will all be as Honi the Circle Maker.

Rudy Giuliani, New York's famous mayor, stopped crime in many areas through a policy of "zero tolerance." He denied what his predecessor had done when there were the Crown Heights riots, namely, to let the rioters vent their anger for a couple of days. Rudy believed that such venting is not sublimation at all, but rather an invitation to bloodshed. Instead, zero tolerance teaches us an important lesson:

Sublimation is when you divert a bad urge to an acceptable expression. It is NOT allowing a little bit of bad behavior in the hopes it will prevent worse behavior. It is not a compromise in that sense, it is a redirection. You can launch a campaign, you can give speeches and work for justice, but you may not throw a single stone.

So with us. Even sublimation means to change the behavior, not to accept small quantities of it. If done well, sublimation can lead to transformation. That is the goal of Torah. We sublimate - the Torah allows something in every area of human drives - in order to eventually become transformed. We work towards rebuilding our subconscious to desire the true and the good.