75 words for 75 years of Israel – Beheimah/Animal

In honor of Israel’s 75th birthday, Israel365 is excited to launch a new series of essays that will unlock the secrets of the Hebrew Bible!

Excerpted from Rabbi Akiva Gersh’s forthcoming book, 75 Hebrew Words You Need to Understand the Bible (available soon!) these essays illuminate the connection between related Hebrew words, revealing Biblical secrets only accessible through Hebrew.

Enjoy the series – and happy 75th birthday to the State of Israel!

בְּהֵמָה 

BEHEIMAH

BI-HEI-MAH

ANIMAL

“God made wild beasts of every kind and animals of every kind, and all kinds of creeping things of the earth. And God saw that this was good.” (Genesis 1:25)

ויעש אלהים את חית הארץ למינה ואת הבהמה למינה ואת כל רמש האדמה למינהו וירא אלהים כי טוב.

“Of every pure animal you shall take seven pairs, males and their mates, and of every animal that is not pure, two, a male and its mate.” (Genesis 7:2)

מכל  הבהמה הטהורה תקח לך שבעה שבעה איש ואשתו ומן הבהמה אשר לא טהרה הוא שנים איש ואשתו.

We first encounter the Hebrew word for animal, beheimah, in the opening chapter of Genesis, which describes the different kinds of animals created by God on the fifth day. 

Beheimah refers specifically to domesticated animals like cows, sheep and goats, which were critically important to the early Israelites, many of whom were shepherds, including important leaders such as Abraham, Moses and King David. The Jewish sages say that Moses was chosen by God to lead the Children of Israel because of how righteously and caringly he tended to his flock.

These domesticated animals would later become a key element of the Tabernacle and Temple service, where they were brought as daily sacrifices in the service of God. For an ancient Israelite, offering one of his animals as a sacrifice was like giving God a part of himself, creating a sense of closeness and connection to God.

The beheimah also appears prominently in the Bible’s description of the kosher laws. Kosher animals cannot be predators and must have split hooves and chew their cud. Both of these conditions are met by cows, sheep and goats.

Although man is created in the image of God and has a higher level of soul than animals, the Bible requires us to treat animals with compassion, for they, too, are created by God. As Rabbi Moshe Cordovero (1522-1570) said: “One should respect all creatures, recognizing in them the greatness of the Creator. All creatures are imbued with the Creator’s wisdom, which itself makes them greatly deserving of honor. If one were to disparage them, God forbid, this would reflect upon the honor of their Maker.”

The Israel Bible Team

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