The Talmud tells us that compassion is one of the three traits that distinguish the nation of Israel (the others are shame and kindness). The Torah abounds with commandments that exercise this quality, and Rabbi Avigdor Miller, zt”l, explains that they are given for exactly that purpose. Among these commandments are those that protect the welfare of animals. About these, Rabbi Miller explains that the true compassion we must learn is not for the animal but for ourselves.
“And an ox or a sheep, him and his son you shall not slaughter on the same day” (22:28).
This applies solely to cattle, sheep and goats but not to non-domestic animals, even the permissible species.
“If one should pray: ‘You, Hashem, are merciful even to the nest of a bird,’ we bid him be silent” (Berachos 33b). Two reasons are given: 1) He explains the mitzvah as a mercy, but the release of the mother bird is a decree of Hashem which we fulfill as His servants and our intention is only to serve Him. 2) If the purpose was compassion, the same law should apply also to deer.
Hashem does not need our agency for mercy upon the mother bird, and He Himself can bestow His mercies without our aid. He gave us mitzvos to do His will, which is the highest achievement of mankind. Therefore we serve Him out of gratitude to our Creator. But the Creator gave us the mitzvos (which we do solely to serve Him) with the intention that we refine ourselves by means of His service (Vayikra Rabbah 13:3).
“Rabbi Shimlai taught: Torah begins with the doing of kindness and concludes with the doing of kindness” (Sotah 14a), which implies that all that is between the beginning and the end is also for kindliness. But the kindliness of which Rabbi Shimlai speaks is actually the kindness of Hashem to us, because the study of Hashem’s Torah and the fulfillment of His precepts are the very greatest forms of Hashem’s kindliness to us. And we learn that while we gain the perfection of doing the will of Hashem, we are also at the same time acquiring more perfect qualities of character, of which this mitzvah is one example.
The law (22:27) that prohibits a korban less than eight days old applies solely to offerings. For ordinary use, if we know the gestation had been full term, it may be slaughtered as soon as it is born (Shabbos 136a); otherwise we wait until the eighth day. The second law, that the mother and the offspring should not be slaughtered on the same day, applies also to non-korbanos. In the first case, if he transgressed and slaughtered before the eighth day the animal is not permissible to be eaten. In the second case, if he slaughtered the mother and offspring on the same day, we may eat them (the shochet must wait until the following day).
This commandment forbids the slaughter of the offspring and its mother even many years after the birth, when animals have already lost any awareness of kinship. Thus we perceive that Hashem gave this law because of His compassion for us – for we humans would consider it cruel to slaughter both the parent and the offspring in one day, even though the animals themselves have already lost any emotions of kinship. Thus it becomes evident that these are not laws to protect the emotions of the animals but rather to train the holy people in the character trait of compassion upon all His creatures.
Compiled for The Jewish Press by the Rabbi Avigdor Miller Simchas Hachaim Foundation, a project of Yeshiva Gedolah Bais Yisroel, which Rabbi Miller, zt”l, founded and authorized to disseminate his work. Subscribe to the Foundation’s free e-mail newsletters on marriage, personal growth, and more at www.SimchasHachaim.com.
For more information, or to sponsor a Simchas Hachaim Foundation program, call 718-258-7400 or e-mail info@SimchasHachaim.com.