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Parshas Mishpatim - Man's Best Friend    29 Shvat 5781

02/11/2021 03:12:09 PM


This D’Var Torah is sponsored by Daniel and Sandra Spivak in honor of their ninth Wedding Anniversary 

A few years ago, while in Israel, I noticed an uptick in the number of dogs being walked by their owners. It took me a while, but I came to understand that having pets in general and dogs in particular are a sign of affluence. When I was growing up I did not notice too many dogs in my neighborhood, and rarely did I find a Jewish home with a dog. My earliest recollection of dogs was walking past a fenced-in yard where large German shepherds were barking and howling, practically leaping over the fence any time I passed by. From my perspective, dogs were used primarily for protection or even to attack a perceived danger. Over time, the role of dogs has evolved not only from guard dogs, working dogs, and watch dogs, but even beyond the common role of household pets.    The view of seeing a dog as ‘man’s best friend’ is  just the  beginning of the evolution of the pet world. Today people invest considerable money to have companion dogs, service dogs, and mental health dogs. Pets are found happily snuggled inside doggy strollers and backpacks shopping with their owners and traveling on planes to vacation and work-related destinations. As a result, there has been a boom in the dog population over the last fifty years.  In fact, have you ever given any thought to how many dogs are  in the United States? There was a 2020 census of pets in households aligned with the 2020 United States Census. Wisdom Health, the world’s leader in pet genetics, conducted its own 2020 United States Pet Census. This parallel population survey sought to provide insights into the lives of our country’s cats and dogs, asking owners a variety of questions, including the size, breed, activity levels and overall lifestyle of residential dogs, cats, and other animals to better understand the lives of American pets. The overall pet population, according to the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association),included 77 million dogs and stated that 84.9 million or 67% of American households own at least one kind of pet. 63.4 million or 53% of American households own dogs. Most dog-owning households have one dog. Granted, most of today’s dogs are not the kind of dogs I described people having in the past.Throughout the millennia, the primary livelihood of many Jews was shepherding.  We know that many of the leaders of the Jewish people were רועים  / shepherds and, in fact, shepherding was one of the qualities Hashem looked at when choosing a leader for His children, the Bnei Yisrael. All the Avos, Avraham, Yitzchok, and Yaakov, Moshe rabbeinu, and Dovid HaMelech were shepherds. Hashem noticed how carefully they maintained their flock. This appealed to Hashem, noting  that a good and diligent shepherd would demonstrate the same attributes when appointed to lead His flock.

The German shepherd dog, a member of the herding breed, is known for its courage, loyalty and guarding instincts. This breed makes an excellent guard dog, police dog, military dog, guide dog for the blind and search and rescue dog. For many families, the German shepherd is also a treasured, loyal and loving family pet. These are qualities of goodness and kindness, unlike my childhood exposure to these same dogs. Therefore, there is ‘room’ for dogs within Jewish thought and living. Although we do not hear much about dogs in the Torah per se, it is by no means completely absent either.

There are but just a few places in the Torah that mention dogs; when the Jewish people left Mitzrayim, even the dogs did not bark at the Jews leaving. It is in this parsha that we find the second mention of dogs. In this week’s parshas Mishpatim the Torah states in Shmos 22:30 "ואנשי קדש תהיון לי, ובשר בשדה טרפה לא תאכלו לכלב תשלכון אתו"  “Be a holy people to Me. Do not eat the flesh torn off in the field by a predator. Cast it to the dogs”.  On the surface this verse appears normal and routine - give meat no longer fit for a Jew to eat to ‘his best friend’. But, as usual, the Torah is not here to tell us things that are normal or would be routine for us to do. We can see this throughout the entire parsha of Mishpatim which deals with laws between man and man; although we think something is straightforward, the Torah emphasizes our obligation for fear we may not do what is sensible.

The verse in discussion is not just an ordinary piece of meat that is not kosher, but specifically the ‘treifah’ meat of an animal that was torn and killed. Let’s take a look behind the scenes and go back a few frames to unfold the scenario. Let’s say I am a shepherd of my large flock. I have my trusted shepherd dog, guarding my sheep, goats, and maybe even cattle from other predators. One morning, I arrive to find one of my sheep killed and torn. What is my first reaction? How did this happen? Where was my trusted guard dog? I think to myself that my dog failed in his responsibilities by not doing the job of protecting my flock. I am furious at the dog and my instinct is to get a whip and punish the dog for sleeping on the job and causing me this loss. I ask, why would the Torah tell me to give this carcass to my guard dog who just failed me?

I learned the answer to this and have shared it over the years, but it bears repetition. Let us look back at how many days, months, and years my dog has been faithfully doing his job of protecting my herd. Thousands of nights and days he was on guard and watched over the animals and he kept them safe.  Unfortunately, for reasons unbeknownst to me this one time he did not or maybe could not protect all the animals and one was lost. The Torah’s incredible message is now, at the time when I think I may be entitled to be angry and hit the dog for failing, I should instead show hakaras hatov, gratitude for all of the times the dog did do his job and reward him with a fresh piece of meat.

I gave over this pshat during the Shovavim period while delivering a class on Shalom Bayis/peace in the home. We can extrapolate and expand the concept to any relationship between two people. A husband does many things for a wife and vice versa. Friends do many things for each other. It can happen that one time something fails, causing one spouse or friend to be upset at the other for burning the soup or not washing the last dish. Sure, we can be angry and hold it against the person, or we can take the message from the dog’s loyalty that sometimes we make a mistake and are even wrong in your eyes. Remember now, at the moment we think we should have the right to be angry with the other person, take the opportunity to thank them for all they have done for you in the past by buying them a gift or a treat. Show your appreciation for ALL they have done for us and forget about the one small mishap that took place now. This will truly create a Shalom Bayis in the House of Hashem!


Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Tue, September 28 2021 22 Tishrei 5782