Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Dad, can we get a dog?

Brachos 40

One fine Shabbos morning, a fellow enters the synagogue with a dog. The security guard stops him and says, "Pardon me, this is a shul, you can't bring your dog in here."
"What do you mean," says the man, "this is a Jewish dog. Look."
The guard looks carefully and sees that the dog has a tallis round its neck.
"Chappy," says the fellow, “say Shema.”
Suddenly the dog is on its hind legs, and takes its front right paw to cover its eyes.
“Big deal,” says the guard dismissively, “you could train any dog to do that trick.”
But then he realizes that Chappy’s show isn’t over yet.  He starts to take his steps backwards and forwards for the Amida, and proceeds to shokel (sway) his way through the davening, even managing to bounce up and down for Kedushah.
"That's amazing," says the security guard, "absolutely incredible!  You should send him to yeshiva!  He could be a rabbi!”
"You try speaking to him," says the fellow, "I’ve already broached the subject, but he insists on becoming a doctor."

אָמַר רַב יְהוּדָה אָמַר רַב: אָסוּר לָאָדָם שֶׁיֹּאכַל קוֹדֶם שֶׁיִּתֵּן מַאֲכָל לִבְהֶמְתּוֹ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״וְנָתַתִּי עֵשֶׂב בְּשָׂדְךָ לִבְהֶמְתֶּךָ״ וַהֲדַר ״וְאָכַלְתָּ וְשָׂבָעְתָּ״.
Rav Yehuda quoted Rav: It is forbidden to eat prior to giving food to one’s animal, as it says, “And I shall give the grass in your field for your animal.” And subsequently, “and you shall eat and you shall be satisfied.”

Many dog-owners take pride in the fact that no food in their home ever goes to waste.  After all, Fido will always eat the leftover scraps, even down to licking the meat bones completely clean.  Unfortunately, that approach does not work in our tradition.  Rav teaches that we must feed our animals before feeding ourselves.  As a result, by the time we’ve eaten dinner, Fido is completely full, with no room left for dessert!

Why do we need to feed our pets before we eat?  Rabb Moshe Sofer (CS Behar) offers an extraordinary explanation based on the verse (Ps. 36:7), “Your charity is like the mighty mountains . . . You save both man and beast, Hashem.”  This verse teaches that, in certain situations, a person’s salvation may be due to G-d’s mercy for his animals.  We might not be deserving of His bounty.  And so Hashem may have decreed for us a challenging financial year.  But when we’re forced to tighten our belts, which member of the household is going to suffer first?  Probably Fido. 

Is that fair?  Why should our pets suffer because we were deserving of less this year?  Fido didn’t do anything wrong that would warrant a more meagre serving of dogfood!  When G-d looks at poor Fido and realizes that he stands to lose the most if you earn less this year, it causes an annulment of the decree and everyone can eat again.  Think about it.  In this scenario, Hashem provides us with sufficient livelihood to enliven our livestock.  As the bystanders, we become collateral beneficiaries of His grace.  And so if we’ve been blessed because of our pets, it only makes sense to feed them first!

Let’s take that argument up a notch.  If sometimes the whole reason we have been blessed with material prosperity is on account of our animals, then we owe a great deal of gratitude to them.  What’s more, if you don’t have pets, it might be time to get one!  They say that children bring with them an added measure of Heaven’s bounty into the home.  But it seems that pets would also be a source of material blessing!  (The Chappy’s of the world also bring spiritual blessing, but not everyone is in agreement as to whether they may be counted in a minyan after their bark mitzvah…)

Now it’s clear why a dog is man’s best friend.  In reality, all animals are our best friends.  Caring for Hashem’s creatures engenders His compassion for us, His children.  May you always prioritize His creatures, great and small, before seeing to your own needs, and may our Father in Heaven in turn always prioritize your needs! 

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