Angels or Animals? You Choose!

Yael Eckstein  |  April 26, 2020

Worn statue of an angel resting his head against his hand

What is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?

You have made them a little lower than the angels
    and crowned them with glory and honor. — Psalm 8:4–5

Shalom, my friend. During these difficult times, we all need encouragement and inspiration. It is in that spirit that I will continue to share these devotions with you. The Fellowship continues to help people in need in Israel and around the world, as we continue to pray for you and your family.

In honor of my father, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, and his lifework helping Christians understand the Jewish roots of their faith, I offer you one of his devotional teachings from the beloved Psalms.

In Psalm 8, King David asked: “What is mankind that you are mindful of them?”

What is humanity? On one hand, we are only a little more than animals. We eat, breathe, and seek out pleasures just like any other creature. We come from a tiny speck, and our ultimate destiny is to become the dirt of the ground, just like every other being. Why should God Almighty pay us any mind?

On the other hand, David described the greatness of man: “You have made them a little lower than the angels . . .” Instead of just slightly above animals, David pronounced humans as just a step below angels. Created in the image of God with the capacity to think and speak, humanity has the ability to achieve so much – to literally transform ourselves and the world for the better.

These two very different aspects of humanity are expressed by Jewish writer and philosopher Ernest Becker, who said: “Man is literally split in two: he has an awareness of his own splendid uniqueness in that he sticks out of nature with a towering majesty, and yet he goes back into the ground a few feet in order blindly and dumbly to rot and disappear forever.”

So what is humanity? Are we just slightly more sophisticated than animals or are we nearly angels “crowned . . . with glory and honor”?

Our Jewish sages answer this question when they explain why Adam and Eve were created last, after everything else had already come into existence. They teach that if humans are worthy, we will say, “The whole world was created for you. You were brought to the world like a king and queen are brought to a banquet – with everything prepared and ready.” However, if humanity is not worthy, we say, “You are the last, least, and lowest of all creations. Even a tiny insect is greater than you.”

Whether we are majestic like kings and queens or lower than a slug depends entirely on us. We determine what we are worth by how we choose to live our lives.

If we deny our godly nature and live a life filled with physicality, solely focused on gaining pleasure and power, then we are no greater than animals. But if we live driven by service, godliness, and contribution, then we can become nearly as great as angels. Every day that we live, we are torn between our animalistic drives and the soul that God placed within us. We choose which drive will dominate our lives, and that choice defines our identity.

Today, let’s choose God and be crowned with His glory!

Your turn

Download a complimentary sample of Yael Eckstein’s new book, Generation to Generation, to learn more about passing on our faith to the next generation.