Assaf, Psalms, and Prophecy: the Essence of Man

            June 2012    
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I Am Like an Animal

By Avi Lazerson

The Psalms were all written with ruach hakodesh, with a spirit of prophecy. The thoughts expressed in the psalms are from some of the loftiest and holiest that we can imagine. Because of this, the statement of the psalmist Assaf (alternately spelled Asaf or Asaph) in psalm 73:23, “And I am a simpleton and ignorant; I am as an animal before Thee” seems out of order. Can Assaf who had the spirit of prophecy be an ignoramus and an animal?

Assaf was a very important man; he together with King David, composed many of the psalms and put them to music. As mentioned above, he had ruach hakodesh, a spirit of prophecy, and yet he speaks about himself as being compared to “ an animal before Thee.

Let us understand what Asaf, a very wise man, was telling us:

Animals come in various varieties; for example there are domesticated animals such as dogs and cats and there are farm animals such as cows and sheep, as well as wild animals such as lions and tigers. The first two categories, the domesticated animals and the farm animals can have some sort of relationships with mankind, whereas the last type, the wild animals normally do not associate with men.

People seem to enjoy the company of dogs and cats and have them live in their house with them. Not only do people enjoy their pets, but they also labor for them; they buy them food, they walk them, take them to the vet if need be, and keep them clean. Farmers also work for their animals by providing them with food and shelter as well as medical care.

Dogs are perhaps the most loyal and responsible pet mankind has. A dog will defend with his life his master; the dog will watch his master's house and even be his eyes. Dogs are used by the police to aid in their work sniffing out drugs. Shepherds use dogs to watch their sheep to ensure that they do not wander off and to alert the shepherd if there is a wolf prowling nearby.

But let us look at it from the perspective of the animal. Do cows or sheep recognize their owner? If they can recognize this particular farmer from another, do they know how he takes care of them? It is certain that the intellectual recognition that a cow or lamb has of its owner is probably very dim. A dog (or a cat) can recognize the owner and respond to the owner's commands. A dog can understand commands to sit, fetch, lie down, etc. but how much do they understand the personality of the owner. Does a dog understand that his master works every day at a job or at an office and has a multifaceted personality? Does he understand why the master walks behind the dog with a plastic bag and scoops up the dog's droppings? Probably not (since if he did he might find it very amusing).

In short, the animal's recognition of its master and of his multifaceted personality and life style is very limited. Yet a dog can recognize its master far better than a cow or a goat. Still, intelligently understanding the sophisticated life style and causes of man's life stresses is beyond the intellectual grasp of a dog.

Asaf realized that although he was a very intelligent man, a man blessed with ruach hakodesh, with a spirit of prophecy. Perhaps he was greater that many men of his generation in intelligence, yet when he assessed his capabilities of fathoming the depth of G-d he realized that there was quite a gap between his abilities and the reality of G-d. He saw that no matter how he tried to understand G-d's ways, he was in a category similar to an animal trying to understand his owner in depth.

Man is liken to an animal in relation to G-d. Some men may possess greater knowledge than other, but in relation to G-d we are all like animals who lack an intelligent understanding. No matter how learned one may be, the inability to fathom G-d's greatness is an inherent lacking in man's nature.

We are all like animals before G-d, however some are more loyal than others. Some are more like dogs and others like donkeys.


from the June 2012 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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