A co-worker admitted to me the other day that he worked so he could afford dog toys for his dogs. We laughed together as I am very much in a similar place, as I look my four dogs sleep in their various sized dog beds, awaiting their dinnertime. And I remember the one of the other commandments by God, given in the Torah.
While this commandment didn’t make the top 10, I am sure this is commandment is in the top 20 for many. I write of the commandment found in Exodus 23:5: “When you see the ass of your enemy lying under its burden and would refrain from raising it, you must nevertheless raise it with him.”
Based on this commandment to help the animal of someone you may not like, we have the concept of “tza’ar ba’ale hayyim,” literally the “pain of living things,” or to minimize the suffering of animals.
Moses and King David were shepherds, caring for and defending animals. Those two were heroes, were they not? Their stories tower in direct opposition to the stories a couple weeks ago about Brody, the lab-mix puppy shot full of BBs with no one to protect him. It’s shameful that there was no one to emulate David or Moses on behalf of Brody. Moses and David were considerate, tending to their flocks, keeping in the ways of God, who’s “mercies extend to all His creatures” (Psalms 145:9).
Those words are an excellent guide to daily life and improving the lives of animals and others around you. It is a mitzvah – a blessing – and an action of Tikkun Olam (healing the world) to help animals. Perhaps, even as you care for your own pets, perhaps you can make time to do more. When the news about Brody spread in the paper and social media, there was such an outpouring of care and offers to adopt Brody that Ebenezer Animal Hospital closed its adoption waiting list.
Brody found a home, but other animals still have not. There are cats, dogs, puppies, kittens and other beasties still hoping for a forever home, looking to share the blessings of love and live with a family. Not everyone can adopt animals, and for those so inclined, there are other ways to help. The animal shelters in York County always have wish lists, ranging from money, to food, laundry detergent and even paper towels. And, even more precious, perhaps you can assist with time, volunteering to care for the animals waiting there.
Even before the Brody story made news, one of Temple Solel’s young members was sharing his time as part of his Bar Mitzvah project and a personal expression of Tikkun Olam. As he prepares to lead a service and assume adult responsibilities within his synagogue, he’s also working with a local animal shelter. He chose his project because of his love for animals. His home has a cat, a dog and a mom concerned that his project is likely to result in additional animal adoptions in their home. Yet even so, they have spent time on numerous weekends, cleaning, reading to the cats and helping socialize the animals at the York County Humane Society.
In Judaism, as in many other cultures, there is an assumed link between the way a person treats animals and the way a person treats human beings. A person who is cruel to a defenseless animal has a greater potential to be cruel to defenseless people. Perhaps that is a reason behind the commandment. It leads us to continue learning and practicing kindness, as caretakers on this earth.
With forethought and faith, we can reach out to help animals, demonstrating that we are appropriate people to be caretakers of this earth. Perhaps the commandment is a way to encourage us to think beyond our human family and include all of God’s creatures in our care. Perhaps this is way to give back to life more than we take.
Edie Yakutis: email@example.com