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The Ari was very careful not to kill any bug...even when they bit him.

Kindness to Animals

Kindness to Animals

Kindness to Animals
The Ari was very careful not to kill any bug...even when they bit him.

When Noah came out of the ark after the Flood, G‑d re-articulated the seven Noahide commandments to him. Included in this is the prohibition of tearing the flesh off a living animal, which generalizes to causing unnecessary pain to animals.

Regarding killing animals, it is mentioned in the Zohar (2:68b) that no creature was created purposelessly.

It is [therefore] forbidden to kill purposelessly.

As the sages state:

"All that the Holy One, blessed be He, created, He created only for His honor, as it is written, All that is called in My Name and for My honor, I created it, I formed it, I even made it." (Avot 6:11; Isaiah 43:7)

We will see now how the Arizal took this statement to extreme conclusions, conducting himself with extreme piety in this matter.

My teacher [the Arizal] was very careful not to kill any bug, even the smallest and lowliest, such as fleas, lice, flies, and the like, even when they bit him.

We know what the sages say, commenting on the verse, "His enemies will also make peace with him," (Proverbs 16:7) that some say this refers to the dog and others say this refers to the snake, and still others say this refers to the flea. (Y. Terumah 8:3)

This idea is the answer of Rabbi Elazar to Rabbi Chizkiyah recorded in the Zohar (2:68b), where the mystical meaning of the verse "Will the snake bite without whispering?" (Eccl. 10:11) is explained. Will the snake bite without whispering?

Rabbi Elazar and Rabbi Chizkiyah were walking and came across a snake. Rabbi Chizkiyah was about to kill it, but Rabbi Elazar told him not to. When Rabbi Chizkiyah protested, saying that it is a dangerous creature, Rabbi Elazar quoted the above verse, interpreting it to mean that a snake only bites a person if G‑d "whispers" to him to do so. G‑d created snakes in order to kill certain people and thereby prevent them from doing some evil.

To be sure, we should not kill any creature unnecessarily, but refraining from killing animals that pose a threat to human life (or communicate diseases) contradicts the requirements of Jewish law, and it is doubtful whether any Torah authority would permit this. Indeed, it is permitted to kill harmful snakes on the Sabbath, when killing is otherwise altogether prohibited.

The Arizal, we may presume, did not have to worry about leaving snakes alive because he did not have to fear being stuck down by one to prevent him from sinning. On the other hand, we see that he was bitten by insects and bugs. The question is how the Arizal could refrain from killing snakes and the like and allow them to pose a threat to others' lives. Perhaps the Arizal only meant that we should not kill snakes in their natural, wild habitat, but that if they venture into heavily peopled areas, we should kill them (or if possible, return them back to the wild).

But all of this is just conjecture. It could just as well be that the Arizal advocated avoiding killing creatures altogether, even at the expense of human life.

It is also not proper to kill or despise lice, which are born and created out of sweat. This is true especially [of lice produced on the heads] of good people. Sweat is the excess [energy] of the person and his dross, and from it these lice are created; this being the case, it is a boon and a rectification for the person when lice are created out of the sweat of his body, for in this way his excess, dross, and evil is excreted. [Since they perform a positive function] we should not despise them.

Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Likutei Torah and Shaar HaMitzvot, parashat Noach; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard."

Reprinted with permission from Chabad of California. Copyright 2004 by Chabad of California, Inc. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work or portions thereof, in any form, without permission, in writing, from Chabad of California, Inc.

Rabbi Yitzchak Luria […Ashkenazi ben Shlomo] (5294-5332 = 1534-1572 c.e.); Yahrtzeit (anniversary of death): 5th of Av. Buried in the Old Cemetery of Tzfat. Commonly known as the Ari, an acronym standing for Eloki Rabbi Yitzchak, the G-dly Rabbi Isaac. No other master or sage ever had this extra letter Aleph, standing for Eloki [G-dly], prefaced to his name. This was a sign of what his contemporaries thought of him. Later generations, fearful that this appellation might be misunderstood, said that this Aleph stood for Ashkenazi, indicating that his family had originated in Germany, as indeed it had. But the original meaning is the correct one, and to this day among Kabbalists, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria is only referred to as Rabbenu HaAri, HaAri HaKadosh [the holy Ari] or Arizal [the Ari of blessed memory].
Moshe Yaakov Wisnefsky is a scholar, writer, editor and anthologist living in Jerusalem. He is a co-founder of Ascent Institute of Safed and one of the first contributing writers for He has recently produced two monumental works: "Apples from the Orchard: Arizal on the Weekly Torah" (available for purchase from KabbalaOnline here) and a Chumash translation with commentary based on the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe (Kehot).
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Sara Fishman Worcester, MA via October 16, 2017

Spontaneous generation I have a problem with the assertion (without qualifying comment) that lice are "born and created out of sweat." There is no evidence today that that is the case; rather all evidence supports the belief that lice are born out of eggs laid by other lice. The belief in spontaneous generation was first challenged in the 17th century CE by Francesco Redi, who showed by experiment that maggots, thought to be "born and created" from rotten meat in fact come from eggs laid by adult flies on rotten meat. There are those that believe that nature has changed, that in the Ari's time lice were, indeed, created from sweat but are no longer. There are others who believe that when our sages wrote of matters that can be investigated by science they expressed scientific ideas of their own era, since discredited. Both groups include many pious, shomrei mitzvot Jews. Given that readers of this column will include Jews of secular background, I think it's important to recognize the discrepancy. Reply

akansha sinha May 13, 2013

we should not kill any type of animal as they are very cute and very important in our life too. Reply

Anonymous mumbai via October 25, 2011

great article this article is really good. however i have a comment to pass if a person wants to study torah then definitely he will want to remain pure like having a bath and washing his head with shampoo to clean or kill the lice and dirt in the hair before studying torah which will surely help him concentrate better. Reply

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