Parshat Vayikra: The Animal Within Us

People are often offended when they are compared to animals. Practically speaking, however, even one who does not believe we evolved from monkeys, recognizes that we are not different from animals in every regard. In each of us there resides an animal side.

Sifra D’tzinuta – one of the oldest and most important sections of the Zohar – explains that man is comprised of Godly and animal elements. This idea is well known to many as brought down in Sefer Hatanya, the foundational work of the Chabad Chasidic dynasty. There is, however, a fundamental difference between how the Tanya and the Sifra D’tzinuta each approach this concept. While the Tanya speaks of an ongoing inner battle between man’s inclinations, Sifra D’tzinuta speaks of a complementary relationship between the two sides; God created man as a combination of two forces, not so one will ultimately subdue the other, but rather to enable man to find balance and harmony between the two.

Let’s look a deeper into the words of the Sifra D’tzinuta. The Zohar opens with the verse describing the sixth day of creation, on which both man and wildlife were created: “And God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.’ And it was so” (Bereishit 1:24). From here, Sifra D’tzinuta deduces that man and animal share a common life-force – “Nefesh Chaya”. Sifra D’tzinuta concludes as follows: “This is [what is meant in Tehillim 36:7] ‘man and animal You save – one is circumscribed within the other, the animal is within man” (Zohar Terumah 178b). In other words, within the essence of man lies animal. As we continue, let’s try to understand the deeper meaning behind this.

To Bring the Animal Within Me

The service of HaShem, as described in Sefer Vayikra, is based on the bringing of ritual sacrifices. To properly understand ritual sacrifice, we must first understand that the sacrifice represents man himself. In effect, he is essentially bringing himself as a sacrifice to God. In Hebrew, this connection is reinforced through literal words themselves: “Korban” – sacrifice – shares a common root with “kirva” – closeness; bringing a sacrifice is an act of moving into a closer relationship with God. We also learn this concept through an apparent contraction in the second verse of this week’s Torah portion:

“Man, when he brings from you a sacrifice to God from the animal” (Vayikra 1:2). The verse states that the sacrifice must come “from you”, but goes on to say that the sacrifice must come from “the animal.” Sifra D’tzinuta resolves the contradiction as follows: “Since [the animal] is within man”, meaning the animal that man is sacrificing is truly found within himself. Man is bringing his animalistic side before God. When we stand before God, we must strive to bring with us even our most physical drives because they, too, need to be brought close to God. Likewise, the service of the Temple is not just intellectual and spiritual, but includes physical elements as well, such as the pilgrimage to the temple, physical purity and the eating of sacrifices.

Both Internal Aspects are Rooted in Holiness

Creation of man, explains Sifra D’tzinuta, has two sides: “When man descends [down to earth], in his higher likeness there are two spirits from two sides, right and left, encompassing man, the right side of soul and holiness, and the left of physical life-force”. Humanity was created in the image of God, and through this likeness we have accepted our two aspects; not only is our holy soul imbedded with Godliness, but so is our animalistic, physical life-force.

This raises the question: if even our physical life-force is part of the natural essence of man, how did the possibility of sin come to be?

Body and Soul in BalanceSifra D’tzniuta goes on to explain “that primordial sin spread to the left [side]”. Sin is the result of imbalance when the forces of physicality extend beyond their proper limits When balance prevails, there is a partnership between the internal drives. According to Sifra D’tzniuta, “When [the two sides] stick with one another, they propagate, like an animal that gives birth to many through a single connection.” To reproduce, to bring a new soul down to this world, we must use our physical bodies.

Just as with birth, all creative production requires a combination of our physical and spiritual capabilities. All creative expression – be it dance, sculpting, drawing, expressive writing or Torah learning – are produced through our spirituality in concert with our animal drives. Our physical inclination, then, is not intrinsically negative but a power which must be harnessed and put into balance.

Rav Dr. Yakov Nagen
Rav Dr. Yakov Nagen (Genack) is Rosh Kollel at the Hesder Yeshiva of Otniel and holds a Ph.D. in Jewish Philosophy from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He also published several books on Jewish philosophy, and numerous articles on the Talmud, the philosophy of Halacha, and Jewish spirituality. Rav Dr. Nagen is a member of Beit Hillel.)

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