Rabbi David Walk, Education Director

Congregation Agudath Sholom | 301 Strawberry Hill Ave | Stamford, CT 06902 (203)-358-2200 www.agudathsholom.org

Thursday, August 23, 2018

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Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Re: Walk Article

ANIMAL RIGHTS? 

Ki Tetze-5778 

Rabbi David Walk 

 

When I think back to the most emotionally wrenching moments of my youth, animals play a huge role. The first movie I remember which made me cry was Old Yeller. This Disney classic from 1957 still plucks at my heart strings. Whenever I conjure up the last scene with Tommy Kirk and Old Yeller, the tears just well up in my eyes. And that's not the only animal themed movie with that power over me. Why Bambi's mother, why her? Pardon me, while I reach for a tissue. In real life, my short stint as a dog owner was fraught with wrenching emotions. So, I have a major emotional investment in this week's Torah reading. 

No parsha has as many mitzvot as Ki Tetze, and a number of them concern animals. The first is: You shall not see your brother's ox or sheep straying, and ignore them. Rather, you shall return them to your brother (Devarim 22:1). Followed quickly by: You shall not see your brother's donkey or his ox fallen under its load on the road, and ignore them. Rather, you shall pick up the load with him (verse 4). Then comes the most famous: If a bird's nest chances before you on the road, on any tree, or on the ground, and it contains fledglings or eggs, if the mother is sitting upon the fledglings or upon the eggs, you shall not take the mother upon the young. You shall send away the mother, and then you may take the young for yourself, in order that it should be good for you, and you should lengthen your days (verses 6 & 7). Followed by: You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together (verse 10). Towards the end of the parsha we have: You shall not muzzle an ox when it is threshing the grain (25:4). 

It seems there's a very real animal rights agenda, but not so fast. The mitzva of sending the mother bird (SHILUACH HAKEN) is the mitzva where our Sages have weighed in on their opinions about cruelty to animals. The Ibn Ezra writing in the 12th century avers that killing mother and child together constitutes 'cruelty of the heart.' He extends his comment to include the prohibitions of slaughtering a mother with child on the same day and not cooking the kid in its mother's milk to propose a comprehensive approach to sanctity of all life.  

The Rashbam writing about the same time emphasizes inculcating cultured and civilized behavior. The Ramban in the next century agreed by declaring that these decrees are meant to teach us proper conduct, but wants to be perfectly clear that we're not interested in the animals' suffering. This seems to follow the logic of the Talmud which states that anyone who says that the Torah has compassion for these birds should be silenced (B'rachot 33b).   

Rabbeinu Bachye from the 14th century, instead, emphasizes a more ecological approach. He explains that the elimination of multiple generations simultaneously could result in the extinction of these useful species. 

More recently Rav Kook said, 'We must take to heart that we are not involved with a random object that moves about like an automaton, but with a living, feeling creature. We must become attuned to its senses, even to its emotions, to the feeling it has for the life of its family members, and to its compassion for its own offspring (Chazon Hatzimchanut V'hashalom).' While Yeshayahu Leibowitz, also active in the 20th century, clearly said (many times) that we do mitzvot for no other reason than God commanded us. 

I think a certain dilemma arises concerning this mitzva because the Torah attaches the fabulous reward of long life (BTW other more mystical sources add on fertility, finding a mate, new home, better livelihood, safe travels, and the advent of Mashiach). For me the problem is that there are people who want to fulfill this mitzva at all costs to receive great reward. I have trouble with this for two reasons. First, we don't want to serve God to get paid (Pirkei Avot 1:4). Secondly, I'm not sure that they're really doing the mitzva on these planned treks to the semi-wilderness. The mitzva seems like it should be totally random, and it seems that you should really want to cook those chicks or scramble those eggs. Am I fulfilling the mitzva the mitzva if I'm not interested in a meal and just bother a mother bird? Does that behavior engender a compassionate character? 

And a sterling character is the goal. The Midrash (Devarim Raba, 6:4) quotes an amazing verse from Mishlei: For they (your mother's teaching) are a garland of grace (LEVIAT CHEN) upon your head (1:9). The expression I translated as 'garland of grace' could be rendered 'escort of grace'. So, this leads the Midrash to a number of comments about mitzvot accompanying us throughout our lives, but then concludes, 'God said that even if one wasn't involved in anything spiritual, just traveling along the byways of life, there is still the opportunity for the accompaniment of mitzvot, as it says, 'when you happen upon a nest of birds on the road.' Where's this road leading us? Let's consult the Sfat Emet. 

The second Gerer Rebbe commented on this Midrash almost every year between 1871 and 1905, but he hit the proverbial ball out of the park (note the expression is 'park' as in Fenway, not 'stadium' or 'field') in 1895. The Rebbe wrote that the mitzvot attire (MALBUSH) us, through the fact that the mitzvot build the inner core of the personality. When the outer aspect of a human is in perfect synch with the inner reality, that individual has achieved CHEN. Sending the mother is a major example of such a sterling character. 

I love most animals (excluding mosquitoes), but that's not the point. The central idea is the Torah makes us warm, compassionate and loving. It's not about sending the bird from the nest, but the beast from our breast.   

  

   



From: David Walk <rwalk36@hotmail.com>
Sent: Tuesday, August 14, 2018 6:43 AM
To: en Sandler; ira blog; Yaakov Walk; shuliw@aol.com; yweiner@gmail.com; leoraweiner@gmail.com; gweiner613@gmail.com; shosh2424@gmail.com; avivaweiner@gmail.com; joshcohn25@gmail.com; robert.raymond@gmail.com; jewishstamford@yahoogroups.com; yishaiwalk@yahoo.com; shaniwhite18@gmail.com; rachew1@gmail.com; rabbi@bnaitorahma.org; nwlandsman@gmail.com; davidlandsman1@gmail.com; sabbamilch@aol.com; wadler@ymail.com; winklerneil@gmail.com; rivkawalk@gmail.com; tamarshaki5@gmail.com; Mitchell; Elan White; Yishai Walk; Albert Lilienfeld; David Kweskin; len mark; Steven Chapman; Yehuda Walk; Diane Indyk; Ellen Shaffren; Werlin; hezitter; Neal Brodsky; Noah Green; Andy Bloom; Marc Silver; ronlevin@013.net; David Hoffberger; juddlove@gmail.com; morahleibowitz@gmail.com; leibowitze3@gmail.com; vipsavta@gmail.com; ahuvamoses@gmail.com; kmahoney@cas-stamford.org; Rabbi Daniel Cohen; Kenneth Miller; thebeachrabbi@aol.com
Subject: Walk Article



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