I get questions from kids and they are just terrific — both the kids and the questions. I received this question on a postcard from a little girl named C in the third grade in my synagogue:
"Why don't animals talk?"
Here is my answer for C. You might want to compare Genesis 1:29, where Adam is given just fruits and vegetables to eat in the Garden of Eden, and then Genesis 9:3, where Noah is finally given grudging permission to eat meat for the first time. The delay in giving people the right to eat meat is confusing, unless we come to the conclusion that the Bible is actually given to us to teach us not just about right and wrong but about wrong and right, and even more right. Eating meat is OK with God, I am sure, but I am even more sure that if you can eat without causing some animal to suffer and die — that is even more OK to God. The Bible has many levels of obedience to God and many levels of kindness to all living things that God created.
This modern midrash (a story about a story in the Bible) is my holiday gift to all the children who have somehow kept alive their sense of curiosity, wonder and awe in a world that is often not at all curious, not at all wondrous and not in awe of anything.
"The First Hamburger," byMarc Gellman
For C …
Once animals talked just like people. Once every living creature ate only grass and nuts — and a few berries when they could find them. No living thing ever thought about killing another living thing to eat it, until the day Noah wanted a hamburger.
One night, Noah dreamed of a hamburger. When he woke up, Noah wanted one really badly. But he wasn't exactly sure how to get a hamburger, so he asked his friend the cow, "I dreamed about a hamburger last night. Do you know how I can get one?"
The cow gave Noah a puzzled look and asked, "What's a hamburger?"
"I don't know exactly," Noah replied. "All I know is that in my dream the hamburger was something delicious between two buns with lettuce, onions, pickles and some special sauce."
"Have some more grass and forget about it," said the cow.
Noah asked the snake, who was the smartest of all the animals, "What's a hamburger and how can I get one?"
The snake whispered in Noah's ear, "To get one you have to make one."
"I don't know how to make one." Noah sputtered.
The snake laughed, pointed at the cow who was peacefully munching grass and said, "To make a hamburger, you have to kill that cow, chop up her meat, and fry it in a pan — or flame broil it!"
Noah's mouth opened wide, "But … but … the cow is my friend! She is a living thing just like me! I can't kill her, chop up her meat and fry it in a pan! And what is flame broiling anyway?"
By now the snake was rolling around on the ground laughing, "Kid, if you want a hamburger, that's what you gotta do."
Well … Noah really wanted a hamburger and so that's what he really did! The first hamburger tasted delicious. But when Noah came again to the fields everything was different. When he walked toward the birds, they flew away. When Noah went over to say hello to the cows and the sheep and the buffalo, they ran away from him. Even the fish swam away when they heard Noah coming. Noah could not understand what had happened to his friends, the animals, and he could not find one single animal who would explain it to him.
In fact, since the day when Noah ate the first hamburger, no animal has ever talked to a person.
They are still too angry.
SEND QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad at firstname.lastname@example.org or Rabbi Marc Gellman, Temple Beth Torah, 35 Bagatelle Rd., Melville, NY 11747.