! גוט מארגען קאזע was a delicious Yiddish expression that my parents OBM would say, usually accompanied by rolling eyes or a deep sigh, when their lumpy-headed son would finally, at long last, observe/discover the obvious and self-apparent.
This was the expression that immediately sprung to mind when reading an Op-Ed piece/ Book-Review entitled Birds Do It, Bees Do It in this past Sunday edition NY Post. The author, Maureen Callahan, reviewed the Coffee-Table Book "The Exultant Ark: A Pictorial Tour of Animal Pleasure" which illustrates not only animal pleasure but such noble animal experiences as "feelings", emotion, funeral rites, care for the less fortunate and suffering. Ms. Callahan sees these as proof of an essentially flawed notion of Havdala between humans and animals and comes to this boneheaded, myopic and shallow conclusion:
If crustaceans can suffer, elephants mourn and dogs feel happy, what are the ramifications? ... but we are also forced to reconsider just what it means to be human. At the very least, it seems we’re not so special after all, not in the slightest.
Really now? Not special in the slightest? The human capacity to reason? Human speech? Human thumbs capable of both opposition and apposition? The human capacity to behave in ways that run counter to both nature and nurture. These are empirically observable distinguishing characteristics that don't depend on a framework of faith.
Those of us who are members of faith communities have more than a theology= theories about G-d, but (to coin a term) a humanology= theories about man, as well. Among other things we we believe that humans are uniquely endowed with free will. As such, only they are dogged by an inclination to evil that makes them uniquely susceptible to depression, nihilism and suicidal tendencies. That they are endowed with a soul that is a scintilla of the living G-d that existed prior to it's interface with it's physical mate, (the astounding, spectacularly complex human body, structured to reflect the Torah's 613 commandments) outlives it's separation from the body and that ultimately, after living a disembodied afterlife, will be reunited with a regenerated but qualitatively different body. That humans are G-d's shining creation, His masterpiece of self-portraiture superior not only to the inert, plant-life and animals that G-d created but even to the Angels. That they are a microcosm of the great macrocosm.
The point that מדות -defined here as emotional based character traits- is something that humans share in common with animals, is well taken but hardly news. Millenia ago our sages taught(Eruvin 100B):
אמר רבי יוחנן אילמלא לא ניתנה תורה היינו למידין צניעות מחתול וגזל מנמלה ועריות מיונה דרך ארץ מתרנגולMy humbles adaptation:
Rabbi Yokhanan taught: Had the Torah never been revealed humans could still have learned moral/ethical lessons in proper emotional driven behaviors from the animal kingdom. E. g. we'd conceal ourselves when voiding bodily wastes as felines do, we'd respect the property of others as ants do, we'd be monogamous as doves are and we'd be tender in lovemaking as roosters and chickens are.
The fact that humans are susceptible to animalistic emotion-based drives, both the kind and the antisocial, derives from mans identity as a microcosm incorporating all the creatures that preceded human creation. So while man is capable of the doves monogamy and the ants industry s/he is equally capable of the sloths laziness, the tigers ferocity and the tomcats promiscuity. Not to mention the territoriality-based hostility that is the root of most wars and mass murders.
Seforim HaQedoshim teach that the human capacity to ennoble and refine their emotions/character traits derives from the Divine mandate and blessing to the first humans to dominate, domesticate and control the earth and all of the lower species: