Predators turned domestic in the wild are some of those incredible stories which happen from time to time and stir up a bit of a commotion.
So here’s a fresh story of this sort, courtesy of National Geographic:
Wildlife photographer Evan Schiller and his wife Lisa adore big cats and are major big cat conservation advocates. Last spring, the two were photographing the landscape in northern Botswana’s Selinda area, when a troop of around 30-40 baboons came running through the bushes, capturing the attention of some nearby lionesses.
Evan and Lisa were forced to watch as one of the lionesses went in to kill a mother baboon with a baby clinging to her side, but were absolutely amazed at what happened next… and photographed the entire incident, of course. See the attached slide-show, photos by Evan:
These stories first hit the headlines as technological advances assisted wildlife-lovers in capturing the incredible scenes they witnessed in the wild. Imaginably, they immediately became a great sensation.
To many, it is Isaiah’s prophecy of “And the wolf will lie with the lamb” come true. True, they agree, we have a long way to go. But, they claim, it seems to be a great beginning!
But as more and more incidents like this pile up, zoologists today like to believe that these phenomena are simply expressions of nature’s sense of humor. Despite the many advances we have made towards a deepened knowledge of our wondrous world, we seem to have zero control of what happens in it. These scientists assume that such stories possibly happen more often than witnessed by man, and perhaps have been happening always, long before cameras were around to capture them. They claim that they are simply exceptions, albeit rare exceptions, to the proven law-of-the-jungle that “predators will be predators”.
If you allow, I agree with the believers and I agree with the zoologists. I find it interesting that this natural-occurring spectacle has come to our attention now, as we draw nearer to the age of Moshiach, when this phenomenon will indeed become not the exception but the norm. I see it as an indication that we should seriously examine and understand what this prophecy is all about.
Interestingly, the assertion that according to the Torah, predators will become peaceful creatures is arguable. No, it’s not a debate between scientists and believers, rather a dispute between rabbis and Jewish thinkers, ranging from the Talmudic, down to medieval and even modern times:
Two great sages of the Talmud, Rabbi Yochanan and Shmuel, disagree on what exactly defines the age of Moshiach. Rabbi Yochanan says that it will be an era laden with miracles, and the natural order of the world will be altered; while Shmuel insists that “There is no difference between the current state of the world and the days of Moshiach other than that the Jewish people will be independent of foreign rule”. (Brachos 34b)
The leading Halachic authority on Moshiach topics, Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (AKA “the Rambam” – Maimonides) rules that Shmuel’s opinion is what the days of Moshiach will be like.
Rabbi Yochanan’s opinion, however, doesn’t stem from fairy tales. The Torah itself, let alone the prophets, tell of fantastic phenomenon which will occur at that time, events clearly defying nature. One such of event is our subject matter:
“If you will follow my statutes … I will remove wild beasts from the Land!” (Bechukosai 25:6)
The sages of the Mishnah debate what ‘remove’ means:
“Rabbi Yehuda says: He will remove them from the world; Rabbi Shimon says: He will alter their nature so they will cease to cause harm.” (Sifra ibid)
This promise pales in comparison to Isaiah’s vision, a clear and vivid description:
“And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and a leopard shall lie with a kid; and a calf and a lion cub and a fatling [shall lie] together, and a small child shall lead them.
“And a cow and a bear shall graze together, their children shall lie; and a lion, like cattle, shall eat straw. And an infant shall play over the hole of an old snake and over the eyeball of an adder, a weaned child shall stretch forth his hand.
“They shall neither harm nor destroy on all My holy mount, for the land shall be full of knowledge of the Lord as water covers the sea bed.” (Isaiah 11:6-9)
How does the Rambam, generally a strict rationalist, explain this in accordance with his view?
He does so in a manner characteristic to his general philosophy – that it is an allegorical description of the peace that will reign at the time between the Jewish people and their gentile foes:
“As for that which is said in Isaiah, that ‘the wolf will dwell with the lamb and the leopard will lie down with the kid’ – this is an allegory and metaphor.
“It means that Israel shall dwell securely alongside the wicked heathens who are likened to wolves and leopards, as it is said, ‘A wolf from the plains ravages, a leopard lies in wait over their cities.’ [In the Messianic era] all will return to the true religion and will neither steal nor destroy, but rather, will consume that which is permitted, in repose, alongside Israel, as it is said, ‘the lion will eat straw like the ox.’
“All other such expressions are also allegories, and in the era of the Messianic King, everyone will come to know what each allegory is about, and what allusions are indicated.” (Mishnei Torah, Laws of Kings 12:1)
However, not everyone agrees to the Rambam’s ruling:
Rabbi Avraham ben David (“the Ra’avad”, the Rambam’s chief adversary), argues that the blessing in the Torah, “I will remove wild beasts from the land,” is one of a series of very realistic, down-to-earth blessing. Just like “no sword will pass in your land” certainly is not just allegorical, so too, “I will remove wild beasts” means exactly what it says in a practical sense!
Rabbi David ben Zimra (“Ridvaz”), a fifteenth century sage and commutator of the Rambam, comes to the Rambam’s rescue, claiming that the Torah’s promise to remove wild beasts applies strictly to the land of Israel, “I will remove wild beasts from your land”, as it says, “They shall neither harm nor destroy on all My holy mount.” Elsewhere, however, it’s just allegorical, and the “wolf” lying with the lamb refers to the non-Jewish nations. In other words, If you go hiking in the wilderness, stay in your car or take a rifle (and camera); but if you see your anti-Semitic neighbor, you have nothing to worry.
This is a nice defense for the Rambam’s stance, but doesn’t appear to be the Rambam’s own opinion. The Rambam doesn’t seem to imply anywhere that in the land of Israel miraculous events will occur while outside of it the natural order will remain. To the contrary – the Rambam’s main proof that order of nature will remain unaltered is from Bar Kochba, who declared himself king in Israel! He was never required by the sages to perform miracles to prove his validity as a Moshiach!
R’ Meir ben Gabbai, a 14th century Kabbalist, claims that natural order means how things were originally created. What we call nature today is how the world became after Adam and Eve sinned by eating the forbidden fruit. According to him, barren trees bearing fruit and wild beasts abstaining from harming humans is not an aberrance of nature, as it were, for this is how things were intended to be. On the contrary, presently the world runs unnaturally! When Moshiach arrives, nature will be restored. [This interpretation obviously needs to differentiate between the wild beasts’ present nature to attack a human being, which was not the way things were intended to be at creation, and the predator’s carnivorous nature to eat its prey from the animal kingdom, which in fact was the way these predators were created. So, although these predators will stop harming mankind, the Rambam refuses to acquiesce that the wolf dwelling with the lamb, which is a complete altering of nature, can be taken literally].
But alas, this explanation is certainly not fully in line with the Rambam’s ruling. Judging from the context of the discussion, we clearly may infer that the world order the Rambam speaks of is the one we know today. Even if we maintain that nature was originally different, it has become what we know of now — a world where wild animals can attack its prey, either man or beast, in the wild. And that, says the Rambam, will not change.
Before we go too far, let’s hear what the Rambam himself, in his famous Epistle of Resurrection (chapter 6), has to say about his ruling:
“Know, that what I explained concerning this and other prophecies that they are allegorical, is not absolute and conclusive; I have not received a vision from G-d that it is indeed so.
“Rather, what led me to this approach is the aspiration that I and other masters of wisdom share — in contrast to popular sentiment — not to portray Torah and reason as two opposite ends… rather to unite and reconcile scripture and reason, unless scripture clearly and undeniably implies otherwise, that it is indeed a miraculous phenomenon.”
In other words, the Rambam doesn’t rule out miraculous events. Resurrection, undoubtedly a miracle, is one of his very own thirteen fundamental principles of faith! Nonetheless, when dealing with Halachic literature — practical instructions to man living on earth under the rule of nature — the Rambam chooses the sure path; i.e., if there is a rationalist approach available we choose it. This ruling, however, surely doesn’t rule out the option that reality in the future may prove otherwise.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, in a famous treatise on Moshiach, concluded from the above discussion and more sources, that it seems from the Rambam’s teachings that the days of Moshiach consist of two phases; the first a “rationalistic” redemption, wherein, although peace will reign, nature will nevertheless continue to run its course, with death still an inevitable reality and with predator animals continuing to kill. The second phase, however, will be when the “miraculous” redemption takes place – the dead will be resurrected, predators will kill no more, and all the fantastic events we associate with Moshiach will indeed become reality.
So we got it: at first “the wolf will dwell…” is merely a symbol for world peace between nations, but ultimately, at some point, the predator animal itself will follow suit and become a peace-loving vegetarian in actuality.
But why does the Torah, which always considers man as the center of creation, put such an emphasis on the role of the beasts at the time of Moshiach?
The answer lies in the very same verse: “They shall neither harm nor destroy on My entire holy mount.” “How can this be so?” you ask. The verse continues with the answer: “for the land shall be full of knowledge of the Lord as water covers the sea bed.”
What’s the connection? If we see the animals’ ceasing to harm, referred to in this verse, as an allegory, then the answer is understood – for the nations of the world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d, so much so that they will be refined to the point that they will recognize the greatness of G-d, His holy Torah and His holy nation. But what has the knowledge of G-d to do with taming wild beasts? Animals don’t have the ability to obtain “the knowledge of G-d?”
The Torah teaches us an important lesson on the power of man. It tells us why man is indeed the focal point of creation –
Man was given the gift of knowledge, a Divine power by all means. The power of the Divine allows a certain level of control on all other life-forms in the world, which were actually given over to man to assist in his pursuit of this knowledge. G-d gave Adam and Eve the command to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and rule over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the sky and over all the beasts that tread upon the earth.”
The deeper and greater man’s knowledge grows, especially with regard to the knowledge of purely Divine wisdom – the Torah – the greater his control over wild beasts becomes too. When the lion’s in Nebuchadnezzar’s den saw Daniel’s holiness they became peaceful, and the same is true with any beast which can tell if the man before him lives up to his human potential or is just a more sophisticated beast than he is.
Likewise, at the time of Moshiach, man’s intellectual, moral, and spiritual capacity will soar to such marvelous heights, that it will even impact the dynamics within the animal kingdom itself! Man’s lofty level will refine the beasts to their utmost, and peace will rein in the jungle!
And so, acts that are perceived as cruel and unjust in the human kingdom will become obsolete even in the animal kingdom. The wolf will lie with the lamb; the lion will share hay with the cow and the lioness will cuddle with the baboon!
This essay is based primarily on a discourse by the Lubavitcher Rebbe titled Shtei Tekufot BiYemot haMashiach – Two Periods Within The Era Of The Redemption. An English translation can be accessed here, accompanied with extensive footnotes and references.
Several points have been culled from another talk of the Rebbe, reprinted in Sha’arei Geulah vol. II pp. 270.
Special thanks to Rabbi Daniel Green for his assistance in preparing this essay for print.