Of dogs and cats and critters like that: when you see your neighbor’s donkey lying under its burden

Is it not uncommon on the Zoom with you folks these days to see a critter or two cross in the background of someone’s rectangle, or even into the foreground.  Usually a dog or a cat, these animals assert their dominance over their masters, even as their masters might believe the opposite is the case.  We are ruled by our pets, and it ain’t so bad a thing.

Last Sunday, for just one example, during our wonderful session with Dr. Sahba Jalali, Betsy, knowing that Mary H. has a jones for our greyhound Maggy, lifted the old girl up from the couch for Mary’s approval, Maggy remaining comatose, which is her natural posture.

Well, we love our pets. And we treat them well. And they return the favor, possibly many times over.

I mention this because we live in a world in which animals are not always treated so well.  Daily we euthanize thousands of abandoned dogs and cats.  Among the worst example of mistreatment, I’ve always felt terrible for the dog that’s been driven into a wilderness area, a desert for example, abandoned by someone, and left to die.

And this is not to begin to speak of the horrific way we raise animals for food, which will have to await another occasion for fuller discussion.

In Exodus 23:5 we read, “If you see the donkey of your enemy fallen down under its load, do not leave it there, you must help raise it.”  You cannot abandon the donkey in, its moment of distress, even if your relationship to its owner is not the best.

The tradition learns from this biblical verse that we have an obligation to help animals in distress.  The rule the tradition derived from this situation is called, “ta’ar ba’alei chayyim,” the pain of living creatures. That is, when we see an animal in pain, we have an obligation to take care of that animal. It serves as a reminder that our obligations toward living beings does not end with human beings. We have an obligation to create humane conditions for animals.

So let your dog or cat, or your dog and cat, enjoy the comforts of your home, and keep in mind that our love of animals doesn’t end at our front door.

Shabbat shalom.
Rabbi Phil Cohen