Shabbat Bo 5776
The narrative of the makkot, the ten plagues, is not just a story of God versus Pharaoh and the Egyptians. The Egyptian environment–all living things, including animals–felt the repercussions of Pharaoh’s obstinacy and refusal to let Israel go free. The plague of dever, cattle pestilence, in particular targeted creatures other than humans, but it’s clear that barad, hail, would have been just as damaging to unsheltered animals.
The rabbis wondered what the Egyptian’s animals did to deserve any punishment. While they came up with answers, the questions were instructive. It points to a rabbinic concern for the well-being of God’s other creatures, and presumes them to be innocent unless proven otherwise. These questions come from a place of reverence for the category they called tz’ar ba’alei hayyim, concern for the suffering of living creatures.
That’s why we are studying the chapter on animals in this week’s lunch and learn with The Observant Life. But it should also be clear from the plagues that sometimes human beings and animals are in an adversarial relationship. Frogs are a nuisance. If ‘arov, the fourth plague, is indeed an epidemic of wild beasts, then the point is sharpened. And when the Torah notes that on the night of the plague of the killing of the firstborn, Israel would be so undisturbed that even dogs wouldn’t snarl at them, the implication is that dogs usually do snarl at us. Are we sometimes on the same team, and sometimes opponents? How do we decide? So as you prepare the chapter (which again can be found here), think about how we decide whether to emphasize our needs, or defer to the needs of animals.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wise