And G‑d said, "Behold, I have given you every seed-bearing herb, which is upon the surface of the entire earth, and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit; it will be yours for food.

-- Breishis 1:29

Classic Questions

What were Adam and Chava allowed to eat? (v. 29-30)

Rashi: The Torah states that vegetable matter should be food "for you, for all the wild animals, etc." (v. 29-30). I.e., [the Torah] equated cattle and the beasts to man regarding the food that they were permitted to eat. He did not allow Adam and his wife to kill a creature and to eat its flesh. They were only permitted to eat the vegetation, as were the animals.

Later, He permitted the sons of Noach to eat flesh, as it is written (9:3): "Every creeping thing that is alive, etc." Like the green herbs, which I permitted to the first man, I have given you everything.

Gur Aryeh: When Rashi writes that "the Torah equated cattle and the animals to man," he means that just like animals were only allowed to eat vegetation, likewise man was only permitted to eat vegetable matter.

Levush Ha'ohrah: The argument of Gur Aryeh is untenable. How can he write that "animals were only allowed to eat vegetation" when many animals do indeed kill other animals for food?

Mizrachi: Rather, Rashi's comparison is: Just as animals were not permitted to kill humans, so too humans were not permitted to kill animals.

The Rebbe's Teachings

The Diet of Man and the Animals (v. 29-30)

Rashi writes, "The Torah equated cattle and the animals to man regarding the food that they were permitted to eat," that they were only allowed to eat vegetation, and not meat.

The following points, however, remain to be clarified:

  1. Rashi's commentary to the Torah was written to explain the simple meaning of scripture, i.e., information which is crucial for a basic understanding of the verses. What question is Rashi answering?

  2. The Torah states explicitly that "I have hereby given you every plant...and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit! They shall be food for you" (v. 29-30). From the fact that G‑d makes no mention of meat, it is obvious that man was expected to be a vegetarian. Why does Rashi feel it necessary to prove this by comparing man to animals?

  3. What exactly is meant by the comparison, "The Torah equated cattle and the beasts to man regarding the food that they were permitted to eat"?

  4. Rashi writes that "He did not allow Adam and his wife to kill a creature and to eat its flesh," which suggests that they were allowed to eat meat from an animal that died by itself, or was killed by another animal. What led Rashi to this conclusion?

The Explanation

On reading verses 29 and 30, Rashi was troubled by two questions:

  1. Of what relevance is the diet of Adam and Chava to the account of the creation of the world?

  2. Why did G‑d inform Adam and Chava of the diet of the animals?

Due to these questions, Rashi came to the conclusion that the Torah could not merely be teaching us some details of dietary laws that pertain to man and animals (as the commentators suggest—see "Classic Questions"). Rather, the Torah clarifies here the importance and priority of man over the other creations:

First, we read that "G‑d created man [by hand] in [the] mold [which was made for] him. The mold [which He used] to create him [resembled the image of] G‑d" (v. 27). Then, G‑d told man to "rule over the fish of the sea, the birds of the skies, and over all the wild animals that move upon the earth," indicating his primary role in the purpose of creation.

Thus, when reading verses 29 and 30, which describe the diet of man and the animals, Rashi understood that this information was not being stated as a parenthetical detail, but rather to clarify further the role of man which had been described in the previous verses.

The knowledge that man is the pinnacle of creation (as described in v. 26-28) could lead him to become arrogant and disrespectful of the world's contents. So after describing the greatness of man, the Torah continued and "equated cattle and the beasts to man regarding the food that they were allowed to eat." I.e., these verses are an attempt to humble man with the knowledge that, despite the fact that he is the pinnacle of creation formed in the image of G‑d, he is nevertheless a creature that needs to eat in order to survive, like any animal.

Despite the fact that G‑d told man to "rule over the fish of the sea, the birds of the skies, and over all the wild animals that move upon the earth" (v. 28), he nevertheless limited the authority of man, in that "He did not allow Adam and his wife to kill a creature and to eat its flesh." This was in order to ensure that man's awareness of his own genuine greatness should not lead to arrogance or pompousness.

Nevertheless, if an animal died naturally, there was no objection to man eating it, as the intention here is that man should be humbled by withholding his authority to kill other animals.

(Based on Likutei Sichos vol. 20, p 7ff.)