Parshat Emor, 5/4/18
While writing this sermon, I had in mind our 4th Graders who co-lead the service with the guidance of their teachers, Ms. Beth Julie, and our educator, Ms. Marian Kleinman. They did such an amazing job: everyone’s faces were beaming with sheer nachas! We engaged in lovely conversation, some of our students shared their thoughts and feelings about “treating animals with kindness,” and how our own animals sometimes treat us when we need them.
I am sure you have heard me say in the past how essential it is to be kind to one another. We always talk about how important it is for each of us to see each individual human as a unique being who carries inside him or herself a beacon of light, a sparkle of God, which is called a נשמה, a soul.
From very early age we are taught: “Whatever is unpleasant to you – do not inflict, or do onto others!” We are reminded over and over how important it is to treat other beings the way that we would want to be treated.
But what happens when that other is not a person but an animal? A goat for example, a horse, a cow, or a dog?
In one short sentence appearing in this week’s portion, Parshat Emor, the Torah states the appropriate relationship between us, humans, and animals—yes, even those animals that some people eat. The verse is:
“And whether it be cow or a lamb, you shall not kill it and its offspring, both in one day.” (Leviticus 22: 28)
What is the meaning of this command and what does it come to teach us? Why should the animal and offspring relationship be mentioned in the Torah?
The simple answer is that God created the animal kingdom in a very balanced way and we are not to disturb it: we have to learn how to respect nature’s order. Certain animals are food for other animals, for example: mosquitoes are food for lizards, and lizards are food for birds of prey. A chicken will never eat a mouse and a cat will never consciously eat a mosquito.
The world of animals is conducted in a consistent balance that we must respect and leave undisturbed and the animals unharmed—ultimately, by doing so, we avoid harming ourselves. The key word is balance.
We must remember that keeping the balance and respecting all living creatures and their place in this amazingly complex and brilliant world of ours is essential for human survival. The genius of our tradition is reflected in Emor: it teaches us reverence, sensitivity, and laws about Judaism’s appreciation of the role of animals in our lives.
One of my all times favorite quotes about animals’ place in our world was written by Dr. Irene Pepperberg, a Harvard scientist of languages, who studied animal cognition, focusing on “Alex,” a magnificent African Gray parrot. She wrote in her book Alex and Me that,
“…animals teach us the meaning of ‘oneness.’ There is just one Creation, One Nature, one good, full, complete idea, made up of individuals of all shapes and designs, all expressing their oneness with One God. We are not different because we look different, but we all reflect the eternal beauty and intelligence of One Creation in our own peculiar way. It’s what make up the whole—this textured fabric of thought and existence.” (Alex And Me, Irene Pepperberg)
Children, I want to ask you two questions:
- How have you been kind to, or helped an animal?
- Can you think of an example where an animal is kind to, or helps a human?
Lastly I wanted to sing a very special song, which I learned quite a few years ago. I used to sing it to all my children of all ages, year one through 90, as well to all doggies who came for Paws Shabbat; a wonderful celebration of our 4 legged friends that we did in San Jose, CA. Let me know think about it:
“God and Dog” by Wendy Francisco
I look down and see my dog.
Simple spelling, g.o.d.
Same word backwards, d.o.g.
They would stay with me all day;
I’m the one who walks away.
But both of them just wait for me,
and dance at my return with glee.
Both love me no matter what
Divine God and canine mutt.
I take it hard each time I fail,
but God forgives, dog wags his tail.
God thought up and made the dog;
Dog reflects a part of God.
I’ve seen love from both sides now;
It’s everywhere, Amen, Bow-wow.
I look up and I see God;
I look down and see my dog.
And in my human frailty,
I can’t match their love for me.
🐾🐾🐾🐾🐾 Rabbi Meeka 🐾🐾🐾🐾🐾