Job – Chapter 40

All About the Behemoth

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

G-d asks Job, “So, who would like to debate with Me?”

Job replies, “I have nothing to say! I retract my statement about You handing control of the world over to the constellations, since You have shown me that this is not the case. I still don’t understand why the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper, but I think I’ll leave well enough alone.”

So G-d continued to reply to Job, still from the midst of a storm, but milder now:

“Stand up like a man so I can ask and you can answer. Do you intend to dismiss My judgment? Will you try to make Me look bad in an attempt to make yourself look good? Do you have the kind of power I have so that you can compete with Me? If so, clothe yourself with glory, then punish the wicked and humble the arrogant. When you can do that, I’ll admit that you’re as perfect as you have maintained. Until then, you’ll have to admit that you’re not.”

“Consider the Behemoth.” (This is a large – possibly supernaturally large – mammal upon which the righteous are destined to feast in the Next World – see Talmud Baba Basra 74b.) “The Behemoth eats grass like cattle, but he is the strongest of animals. His tail is hard as a tree, his limbs are like copper and his bones are like iron. He was created to be foremost among animals and only I, G-d, can subdue him. It takes mountains of food to feed him and I must personally shelter him because he’s too big to be shaded by trees. He opens up his massive mouth and takes in the river. Only I can conquer the Behemoth.”

“And what of the Leviathan?” (The Leviathan is a large – possibly supernaturally large – sea creature.) “Can you catch it, Job? Will it beg you to spare its life? Will you enslave it and treat it like a pet? Do you plan to skin it and make yourself a tent? If so, you’d better get yourself ready because you’ve got a big job ahead of you!”

There are those who identify the Behemoth of this chapter as the hippopotamus. The hippo is a huge, herbivorous, river-dwelling mammal with a stiff tail and a giant, gaping mouth. The description actually fits the text quite nicely. However, one would have to assume that the various Talmudic and Midrashic statements attributing supernatural size to the Behemoth are strictly allegorical. (This would include the part about the Behemoth being the meal for the righteous in the Next World, as the hippopotamus is not a kosher animal.)

The commentary of Rashi on Job ends before the last few verses of this chapter. The balance of his commentary on this Book was completed by other hands. It is not unprecedented that the commentary popularly attributed to Rashi may have been authored by others; such is also the case in the Book of Chronicles.

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