The Sixth Day of Creation: Dominion and the Factory Settings

CREATION STORIES, religious and scientific, invite us into a headspace of humility. They call us to zoom our camera out and see ourselves in the context of literally everything; to see time and space as realities that didn’t have to be and may some day no longer be; to see ourselves as tiny dots in the vast universe—dots that didn’t have to be and will someday no longer be. They call us to ask ourselves, “What is the relationship we ought to have to the rest of this mysterious and vast and wondrous creation?”

In the Biblical creation story, we humans don’t get our own special day of creation. We’re thrown in with the other land animals. (We are animals, after all: we share 96 percent of our genes with chimpanzees and 92 percent with mice.) On the sixth day, before getting to the humans, God makes all the other land-dwelling nefshot chayot(living souls or living selves)—the wild beasts and the cattle and the creeping things. And God declares them “good.” All by themselves. Full stop. Good.

Then, and only then, do humans get created, without a special day of our own, and without a separate pronouncement as “good.”

An elephant before a circus performance in Canada. (Jo-Anne McArthur |

An elephant before a circus performance in Canada. (Jo-Anne McArthur |

But humans do get something that no other creature has received: we get power. The text says, “Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” Dominion. Ouch. That word is pretty problematic for religious liberals. Especially because this vision of humans having dominion over animals is clearly the reality we live in. We do have dominion over animals. We use them for food and we harness their reproductive systems for more food. We make clothing out of them. We keep animals as pets, put them in zoos, and hunt them for sport. We destroy their habitats for money. We deplete their oceans. We drive 150 species to extinction every day. So there is no question that we have dominion over animals. The question is, is this what dominion was meant to look like?

The same passage lays out in greater detail the relationship between humans, other animals, and plants by establishing the food chain. The first thing God says to the first humans after giving them dominion over animals is, “Here, I have placed all the vegetation that produces seed that is on the face of all the Earth for you and every tree, which has in it the fruit of a tree producing seed. It will be food for you and for all the wild animals of the earth and for all the birds of the skies and for all the creeping things on the earth, everything in which there is a living being: every plant of vegetation for food.”

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Source Citation

Tikkun 2016 Volume 31, Number 4: 26-29


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