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Pangs of Conscience on the Plains of Serengeti

We watched and watched, anticipating the kill.
boteach with lions.jpeg

Now, a gazelle is not my neighbor and an antelope is not my human brother. But it made me think all the same. Was the law of the jungle the law of the land, or did God, who created animal nature, also instill within humankind an aspiration for something higher?

I’m writing this column sitting in a camp enjoying the warm breeze of the Serengeti plains in the near pitch darkness that is beginning to engulf me. The staff at the outstanding Thomson Safaris (http://www.thomsonsafaris.com), who are our tour providers, have provided us every comfort so that we can enjoy all this magnificent beauty in tranquility. Leonard, our guide from Thomson, is a walking encyclopedia of information. I have not been able to stump him on a single question on the ecology and animals that surround us (I told him he would make a great Talmud scholar) and he and his colleagues have demonstrated a patience with us and our kosher dietary and Sabbath requirements that is highly respectful and quite exemplary.

So here you have it. The animal and the human. The predatory and the compassionate. All in one setting. And what separates them? That we men and women have a commitment to the higher aspiration of the uniquely human qualities of knowledge, compassion, and human refinement.

Last month our dog of thirteen years, which was a gift to my children from the singer Michael Jackson, passed away. I, who once wrote a column arguing that we Americans sometimes value our pets over human relationships, wept along with my wife and all my kids. Seeing my children in pain at the loss of our pet was soul-destroying and we did our best to comfort them while nursing grief of our own.

It turns out that while animal life is not the equal of a human life and should never be used to supplant the unique comforts of brotherly warmth, there is still something absolutely magical and spiritual about the animals that surround us.

And nowhere does one see such magic like the incredible, endless savannah of the plains of the Serengeti.

About the Author: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi” whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the international best-selling author of 29 books, including The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.


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