Most people have seen chimpanzees in the zoo, or performing tricks, such as riding bicycles, and the like. The chimpanzees can be very interesting and amusing, and they display an intelligence quite remarkable for an animal. In fact, the chimpanzees are considered the most intelligent of all animals.

The chimpanzee belongs to the family of large African apes. It reaches a height of 5 feet when fully grown, and weighs as much as 150 lbs.

Its main physical characteristics are: a broad and powerful chest, long powerful arms, comparatively short legs. Its hands are very much like human hands, except that the thumb is short and the fingers are long.

The toes of the feet are also formed like the fingers of the hand, with the big toe facing the other toes like a thumb. This enables the chimpanzee to use its feet nearly as well as its hands. It is therefore known as a "four-handed" animal. The chimp's body is covered with long, shining hair.

The home of the chimpanzee is in the dense jungles of Africa, especially the rain forests of the Congo and the west coast. There, in the wild, the chimpanzee makes its nest in high trees, though it spends a good deal of time also on the ground. The chimpanzees live in small groups, but sometimes several smaller groups join up to form a larger group of some 25 or even 40 apes. They are wanderers "nomads", moving about within a certain territory in search of better pastures.

The chimpanzees eat fruits, vegetables, birds' eggs, and insects. Sometimes they hunt and kill a young bush-buck or similar animal for meat. At night, each chimpanzee chooses a suitable place at the top of a tree to make its bed. It takes a chimpanzee only a few minutes to make its bed. Having found a strong enough branch to hold its weight, with several branches growing out of its sides, the chimpanzee stands on this platform and bends the side branches down so that the leafy ends rest across the platform. Holding these down with his feet, he uses his hands to bend all the surrounding leafy twigs to add to his "mattress," and his bed is made.

After lying down for a moment, he may sit up and reach for another handful of leaves to pop under his head or some other part of his body for additional comfort. Then he settles down for the night. Small infants sleep with their mothers until they are about three years old.

When a baby chimpanzee is born, it is almost as helpless as a human baby. However, it quickly develops strength in its hands and feet, so that it can cling firmly to its mother's long hair as she moves about from place to place. For several months the baby never leaves its mother, but as it becomes a little more sure of itself, it ventures a few feet away from its mother, then gradually increases the distance under the watchful eye of its mother. By the time it is a year old, it learns to hang from branches and play gently with other chimp babies of its age. At two years, the young chimpanzees can swing merrily and leap from branch to branch.

They are then very active and playful, swinging around in a tree or rolling over and over again on the ground. Like human children, they are never still for a moment, except when they are asleep. From the age of about three years, the young chimpanzee becomes more and more independent. Though it will still move about with its mother for two or three years, it will no longer ride on its mother's back, nor sleep in her nest. At about eight years of age, the chimpanzee is fully developed, and during the next few years it takes its place in the society of the adult chimpanzees. When a young chimpanzee finds a mate, it will not change its mate for another. The average life-span of a chimpanzee in the wild is believed to be 40 to 50 years.

While the chimpanzee is mostly a vegetarian, the bulk of its diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, leaves and seeds. it also loves termites and ants. At certain times of the year, when these insects are greatly multiplied and ready to leave their nests, the chimpanzee has his own method of feeding on them. Approaching a termite heap, he peers at the surface until he spies an entrance. The entrance is sealed off by a thin layer of soil, which the chimp scrapes away. Then he picks a straw or dried stem of a grass and pokes this carefully down the entrance hole. The termites bite the straw and hang on to it, and the chimpanzee carefully withdraws the straw and munches on the termites. Sometimes it breaks off a twig or a length of vine to use as his "fishing tool." These and similar practices are the closest that any animal has come to fashioning a "tool," which points to the chimpanzee's intelligence among the animals. The chimpanzee is known also to have piled box upon box in order to reach food.

Chimpanzees seem quite happy in captivity. They are among the most popular animals in every zoo. Young chimps can easily be trained to ride bicycles, eat with forks, and perform all sorts of tricks. Dressed in specially fitted "suits," these playful performers look very much like humans, and bring delight to children as well adults.

Our Sages of the Talmud speak of instances where apes were trained to do errands and domestic chores (Eruvin 31). The Sages ruled that, on seeing an ape (or monkey), we must make a Brocho, praising G‑d for creating "strange creatures."

What is most strange and extraordinary about a chimpanzee (and certain in other apes) is its striking resemblance to man. But, of course, the important thing is not the superficial resemblance but the real difference. No matter how "intelligent" a chimpanzee can be, and how well trained at "table manners," it remains an ape, a beast, while man is human, and there is no more similarity between them than between chalk and cheese.

In the Talmud we have an expression "Like an ape compared to a man," to emphasize the great difference between "similar" things.

In the Talmud we also find the expression, "Like the work of an ape (or monkey)," to indicate simple and meaningless imitation. Apes and monkeys are known to be great imitators, but their imitation is not accompanied by thought or feeling; it is "mechanical." Thus, any human being who does a good thing without real thought or feeling, is said to be acting "like an ape." This is also the origin of the English expression "to ape.

We often speak of a genuine article, and an imitation of it, as for example a genuine diamond, and an imitation diamond which is nothing but a sparkling piece of glass. But imitations are not always bad; sometimes they are highly desirable. When we see a fine person, with very fine qualities, and the way he conducts himself in certain situations, we admire him, and wish we could be like that person. If we try to imitate him, we can, in due course, acquire some or all of the good qualities of that fine person. For this reason the Sages taught us to acquire good teachers and companions, so as to emulate their good qualities.

Above all we are taught to "imitate" G‑d Himself. This is what is meant when the Torah commands us to "walk in G‑d's ways." For just as G‑d practices lovingkindness and acts of benevolence without thought of any reward, so must we try to be in our dealings with other human beings and creatures.

Concluding our talk about the chimpanzee, we leave you with two thoughts, based on the two Talmudic expressions mentioned above:

First, to remember that there are many things in life, in the area of the material as well as of the spiritual, which seem to have a resemblance, while in reality one may be "like an ape compared to a man." Let us not be fooled by superficial similarities, but learn to distinguish the real and essential aspects of a thing.

Secondly, all actions of a human being must be well thought out, deliberate, meaningful. The things that we repeat often, every day, even several times a day, are the things which are most likely to become "mechanical," and performed as a matter of thoughtless habit, or, as our Sages describe it, "like the work of an ape." We pray three times a day, we put on Tzitzith every day, and Tefillin every weekday (except Shabbos and Yom Tov), we drop a coin into the charity box every weekday, and so on. We must beware against letting these good actions become thoughtless and mechanical; we must do all these things each and every time with kavana - with concentration and intention, with inspired devotion, and with joy at being able to fulfil G‑d's commands.