Midreshet Amit


Back to Main Page

How Frum is Your Pet?

By: Rabbi Daniel Goldstein

How frum is your pet? Does Fido insist that you call him Feivel? Does your cat only drink cholov yisrael? No matter how frum your pet is, it can't match the famous donkey of Rabi Pinchas Ben Yair. The Gemara in Chulin tells the story of how someone gave some food to the donkey of R. Pinchas, which it refused to eat. They tried to get it to eat but it stubbornly refused. At that point, someone realized that the food had not been tithed properly. Once they took off the maaser, the tithe, the donkey began to eat.

But if there are animals who are Tzaddikim, then odds are that there are animals who are rishaim, wicked animals. Indeed, we met some of them in Parshat Noach. The Torah says: "And God saw the earth, and behold it had become corrupted, for all flesh had corrupted its way on the earth. (Ber. 6:12)" Rashi comments: "Even cattle, beasts, and fowl would mate with those who were not of their own species."—even the animals were engaged in perverse and unnatural behavior. The state of spiritual affairs prior to the flood was so low that all creations, not just humans were guilty and thus all were destroyed by the flood.

Now Chazal seemed comfortable withthe recurring theme of guilt and righteousness of animals, yet we need to ask: what are we supposed to extract from these statements? How are we supposed to understand Chazal's concern for the spiritual state of animals? An answer to this question can be found if we put our minds to resolving an apparent contradiction.

The Torah states: "And the Lord said to Himself, "I will no longer curse the earth because of man, for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth, and I will no longer smite all living things as I have done. (Ber. 8:21) It seems that Hashem made his promise that the world would continue infinitely without destruction despite man. In other words, man is bad, but not worth destroying the world over. However, if we read on, we will see something different: "And God said to Noah and to his sons with him, saying: "And I, behold I am setting up My covenant with you and with your seed after you…And I will establish My covenant with you, and never again will all flesh be cut off by the flood waters, and there will never again be a flood to destroy the earth. (Ber. 9:8-9, 11)" Here we find that Hashem enters into a covenant with Noach telling him that he, Noach is the great hope for the world and all the animals and birds and Earth itself are safe because of this covenant with G-d.

So which is it? Does the world continue despite man, or because of man?

The answer, of course, is both are true. In Chapter 8, Hashem "said in His heart". He made a decision which was not revealed to Noach that the world would exist, even if man would fail. However, Hashem was not interested solely in Earth's mere existence. Hashem wanted His earth to thrive—not merely survive. For that, He turned to Noach. Hashem reached out to him and said: The world has been destroyed. It needs to begin again. I want to enter a covenant with you. There are a lot of creatures in this world, but none of them can be charged with creating a world worth living in—a world which can extend beyond the physical. Only you can. So accept theresponsibility for all the other creations and lead the way.

In other words, thebrit with Noachhad nothing to do with the heavy responsibility of ensuring the survival of all of creation; that is already a divine guarantee. Rather, thebrit with Noach was for the betterment of the world. If mankind accepts that responsibility on behalf of creation, then the world will benefit from all mankind has to offer it.

Having understood that, we can return to our animals. The Gemara, citing the pasuk: "And your fear and your dread shall be upon all the beasts of the earth, (Ber. 9:2)" states: "the beast can not overpower [mankind] until mankind appears as an animal."

If we do not liveup to our end of the covenant, the beasts of the field will consider us one of them. If, however, we take up the challenge of Noach's covenant, if we realize that we are responsible for the betterment of all of creation, the power of our deeds will eventually reach and uplift all of creation.

Chazal were interested in the spiritual rise or decline of animals. I do not think anyone cared about R. Pinchas ben Yair's donkey per se. What Chazal cared about was that we humansshould know that we are responsible for the creations around us. Chazal wanted to teach us that we set the tone in the world, and that the direction in which we lead is the direction the world will go.

If we abandon our responsibility, the entire creation will follow suite down the slope which we slide. But if we accept the responsibility and we lead the way—who knows—a world we never even considered may just be possible.