Oz Torah: Ask the Rabbi “Do animals know about God?

OzTorahQuestion. Do animals know there is a God?

Answer.   According to the Midrash, God rebuked David for boasting that no-one could sing praises as well as he could.

“Every creature,”

God told him,

“has its own way of praising its Maker.”

The birds chirp. The horses neigh. The cows low. Each has its own voice. Each utters its praise for being alive.


The prophet Isaiah goes further and says (43:20) that the animals know that it is God who gives them water and food – in contrast to human beings, who often fail to acknowledge the boons they receive from the Almighty. We should, however, not read too much into these passages, which ascribe human dispositions to the animals.

We should also not take too seriously the question of why certain animals are so fierce and aggressive. The animals are not human beings and are not required to have a moral conscience. Only man has free will and can choose right from wrong. Some animals are placid and others are cruel, but not because they have chosen to be so. As Yehudah HaLevi tells us in the Kuzari, this is all part of God’s design, even though humans cannot necessarily understand His purposes.

Nachmanides says that in messianic times, God will prevent wild beasts from doing any harm. The verse,

“I shall establish peace in the earth… and I shall cause the wild beasts to desist” (Lev. 26:6)

does not mean that there will be no wild beasts but that their wildness will be tamed. Why were they wild in the first place?

Ramban’s view is that at the time of creation they were tame and placid, but Adam’s sin altered the idyll; man learned to disobey God and the animals learned to hunt their prey (Ezek. 19:3). In time to come, however,

“the cow and the bear shall feed together… and the lion shall eat straw like the ox” (Isa. 11:7-8).


Question. Why say prayers for rain when it is Nature that decides such things?

Answer.   We know from experience that there are certain times of the year when it rains, but when there is a drought everyone and everything suffers.

The prayers we say are to ask of God that the regular state of things should prevail and that we get “the rain of the land in its season”. According to the rabbis, the best time for rain is Friday night, when people are at home celebrating Shabbat.

This symbolism is that we have both needs and wants when it comes to rain – we need it for ourselves and the world, but we do not want it to come in a way that it causes problems. Two prayers that come at the end of some siddurim – one prayer to be said when there is too little rain and one to be said when there is too much.


Question. Why do the early morning blessings first acknowledge that the rooster recognises the dawn, then mention that we have not been made heathens, slaves or women (women have a separate b’rachah) and then thank God for opening our eyes in the morning and enabling us to move and get out of bed?

A Yemenite Jew at morning prayers, wearing a kippah, tallis and tefillin. credit Wikipedia

Answer.   These blessings combine two Talmudic passages. One, in B’rachot 60b, says that as we perform each early morning action we should say a blessing; the other, in M’nachot 43b, says that a man should acknowledge every day that he has not been made a heathen, a slave or a woman.

(There is a great deal to say about the reference to women and about their blessing, “God… who has made me according to His will”, but we have dealt with this issue elsewhere.)

The question you have asked may be answered this way. The first thing that happens in the morning is that we wake up, courtesy of the rooster, an alarm clock or some other means.

Then, before we even open our eyes or begin to move, we begin to think. Our first thought is, “I’m alive! I’m Jewish! I’m free!” and a man adds, despite the sexism, “I’m male!”

Now that our mind is alert we can begin the series of actions that mark the process of getting up.


Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem.
Rabbi Apple blogs at http://www.oztorah.com

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