This article first appeared in the Fall 2006/5767 issue, issue #9
By Becah Kaplan and Talya Wasserman
The Torah teaches us that animals are Hashem’s creations also, and therefore we must treat them well. This mitzvah is called Tza’ar Ba’alei Chayim, the negative commandment of avoiding cruelty to animals.
There are several sources in the Torah for the mitzvah of Tza’ar Ba’alei Chayim:
• We are commanded that if we see someone’s donkey (which would also apply to other animals) crouching beneath its burden, we have to help the person – and therefore the donkey. If we see someone’s donkey or ox which has fallen on the road, we have to help the animal get up.
• If we kill an animal for food, we must cover its blood out of respect for the animal.
• We are commanded to not plow with an ox and a donkey together. According to some commentators, this is because it will make the plowing unnecessarily harder for both animals. Because the ox is stronger than the donkey, either the ox would do most of the work or the donkey would have to work harder to keep up with the ox.
• We have the Mitzvah of Shilu’ach Ha’Kan, or sending the mother bird away if we want to take the eggs or baby birds. According to Ramban, the purpose of these Mitzvos is so that people will learn to be compassionate and merciful.
• We’re not supposed to muzzle an ox who is threshing. This Mitzvah teaches us to be sensitive towards the animal. It should be allowed to eat and enjoy some of the fruits of its labor.
• In Devarim, it says, “And I [Hashem] shall give grass… to your animals, and you shall eat and be satisfied”. The Netziv always fed his chickens before he himself ate, because he said that by having the animals first in this Pasuk, the Torah teaches us that first we should feed our animals, and then we can eat our food.
These mitzvos all teach us to be kind and compassionate to animals, and to not cause them extra, unnecessary pain.
Hi. My name is Ruff the dog. Every time I do something wrong, my owner slaps me! It hurts my feelings and my body. That’s where the mitzvah of Tza’ar Ba’alei Chayim comes in. All you have to do is be nice to me. Just as you’d treat yourself! It’s that simple!
Don’t they know of the mitzvah, Tza’ar Ba’alei Chayim? It’s so simple to do. It’s the same as treating people the way you want to be treated, except for animals! All they have to do to make me happy is to not chase me away. I have feelings too!
The Midrash tells us several stories about how people from the Torah treated animals kindly.
Noach was instructed by Hashem to build an ark for himself, his family, and the many animals that would live in it during the flood. He worked very hard building the ark and all the special cages and places to live for each and every animal. He also had to gather food for the animals, so they would be able to eat during the flood. And all that was even before the flood began! When Hashem sent the flood, Noach had even more work. He had to feed every animal at the right time. Some animals had to be fed at night, and some during the day. Noach and his family were constantly taking care of the animals in the ark. One of the animals was a chameleon. Noach did not know what to feed the chameleon, and he felt very bad that the animal was always hungry. Finally, one day Noach was sitting near the chameleon’s cage, eating a pomegranate. A worm fell out of the pomegranate and crawled into the chameleon’s cage. The chameleon stuck out its tongue and ate the worm. Noach noticed this, and he was very happy that he now knew what food the chameleon needed. Now he could care for this animal, as well.
Noach’s devotion to all the animals in the ark was an amazing example of how we should treat animals.
Before Dovid HaMelech became the king of Bnei Yisrael, he was a shepherd. As
a shepherd, he had a problem. He noticed that the strong sheep pushed the weaker, younger, and older sheep away and ate all the grass themselves. The young and old sheep therefore didn’t get enough to eat. Dovid then built three pens for the sheep. One was for the young sheep, the second was for the old sheep, and the third pen was for the strong sheep. First he let the young sheep out. They ate the soft top part of the grass. Next he let out the old sheep. They had stronger teeth, and they could eat grass that was a little harder. Last, Dovid let out the strong sheep. With their strong teeth, they were able to eat even the hardest parts of the grass, which the other, weaker sheep had left over. In this way, all the sheep were able to eat the grass they needed.