Psalm 104:24 declares that G-d fashioned all creatures with wisdom. The Talmud, going further, maintains that each creature consented to the form G-d gave it, implying that G-d conferred with the animals (B. Hullin 60a). This ability to reflect a part of the divine wisdom hovers in the background of the numerous classical rabbinic stories of animal sagacity. Pesikta Rabbati, a sixth-or seventh-century redaction of early rabbinic materials, tells a story of a cow who, when sold to a gentile, still refused to work on the Sabbath and ultimately so impressed its new owner with his piety that the new owner converted to Judaism and became a great rabbi (14). In some of the stories animals behave ethically and show an awareness of G-d when humans do not. Thus "Balaam's ass" sees a divine messenger on the road when Balaam is unable to do so (this verse;), and in the Talmud we read that while the humans today are like donkeys when compared with the previous, morally superior generation, they are "not like the donkeys of R. Hanina and R. Pinhas ben Ya'ir," who refused to eat untithed barley and therefore are, the text seems to imply, our moral superiors (B. Shabbat 12b). Moses Cordovero (1522-1570), returning to the story of Rabbi Judah and the calf, argues that "the Supernal Wisdom is extended to all creative things--minerals, plants, animals, and humans.… In this way man's pity should be extended to all the works of the Blessed One just as the Supernal Wisdom despises no created thing.… This is the reason our holy teacher was punished for his failure to have pity on the young calf that tried to hide near him. (Moses Cordovero, The Palm Tree of Deborah, Louis Jacobs, trans. (New York: Sepher-Hermon, 1981), pp. 83-4 (chap. 3 in Hebrew).
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