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A lesson in how to care for animals

Jews and Animals

Jews and Animals

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Jews and Animals
A lesson in how to care for animals

The love and patience which the Torah scholar, Yitzchak Shaul, third son-in-law of Eliezer Reuven, the smith of Dobromysl, showed to all, and his eagerness to teach them, be they men or women, were unsurpassed. He extended his love also to four-footed creatures, to birds, and to everything of G‑d's creation. His father, Rabbi Nissan, had implanted this in him since his earliest childhood, telling him that one must love everything that G‑d has made, and one must not harm any of His creatures, and not even hurt plants, for they too could feel pain.

Rabbi Nissan had had good reason to teach his son to be merciful, for he had, like many another boy, thought nothing of throwing stones at birds, chasing cows, goats, dogs or cats, plucking up plants, or tearing up grasses.

Yitzchak Shaul especially remembered what his father had told him about a rooster, which was his father's favorite. Rabbi Nissan treasured this rooster so much, because very early every morning it used to crow so loudly and wake him up to go to shul. He therefore looked after it himself, making sure it had enough to eat and was kept in good condition, so that nothing should affect his excellent, clear crowing.

Every evening he used to bring it into the house and put it in a warm, dry place, underneath the oven. Thus he would be sure to hear its crowing and be in time to go to pray.

As much as his father loved the rooster, so did his young son hate it

The louder the rooster crowed, the more pleased was Rabbi Nissan. But not so, little Yitzchak Shaul. As much as his father loved the rooster, so did his young son hate it, and he delighted in persecuting the bird at every opportunity. Whenever his father was out of the way, little Yitzchak Shaul used to chase the poor rooster all over the yard! He treated animals in no kindlier manner.

They had a brood hen which regularly hatched eggs, and the fluffy little chickens which emerged were a joy to behold. But the little tyrant used to pick up small stones and aim them at the chicks, making them "run for their lives" all over the yard!

Then he thought nothing of catching flies and placing them inside a spider's web, so that he could have the pleasure of watching the struggle between the flies and the spider, until the latter finally captured its victims and swallowed them.

And if he could get a dog to chase a cat, that was one of his special delights.

One day, unnoticed by him, his father had come into the yard and observed his son's cruel behavior.

But one day, unnoticed by him, his father had come into the yard and observed his son's cruel behavior. Suddenly, Yitzchak Shaul felt a heavy hand on his shoulder and, looking up, beheld his father's angry face.

"So this is the way you spend your time! Ill-treating helpless creatures!" his father rebuked him sternly. "I could never imagine that a child of mine could be so cruel!"

The little frightened boy thought his father would surely give him a beating, he looked so angry, although he knew this was not his father's way. Rabbi Nissan was a melamed and everyone knows that boys can drive any teacher to losing his temper, with blows to follow. But Rabbi Nissan had never in all his years of teaching laid a hand upon a pupil. His "strap" hung on the wall of the classroom, it is true. But if a pupil deserved punishment, he had only to indicate the strap on the wall, and tell him what he deserved, and it was always enough for the culprit. The pupil felt he had "had it" and resolved to make amends.

Rabbi Nissan's pupils, in fact, respected their teacher, and were more afraid of him than the pupils of other teachers who used the strap and enforced discipline and order by this means.

Entering the house with his son, Rabbi Nissan asked him to bring the Talmud Tractate Shabbat and open it at page 125. He told him to read the mishna relating to the injunction to look after chickens with gentle care, lowering the basket for them to go out or come in, until they were big enough and strong enough to manage it for themselves.

First we find the words: 'I shall give grass in your fields for your animals' and only later 'and you shall eat and be satisfied.'

"See how the Torah thinks of everything and allows us to do something on Shabbat which otherwise we are not allowed to touch, so that the tender little chickens should not have to hurt themselves by jumping a distance beyond their capacity!" Rabbi Nissan enthusiastically explained to his little son. "Then in Tractate Berachot, we find on page 40 that we must never sit down to a meal before first looking after the dumb creatures in our possession. For first we find the words: 'I shall give grass in your fields for your animals' and only later 'and you shall eat and be satisfied.'

"Thus we see that we must first of all care for the other of G‑d's creatures before we look after our own needs. Yet you, my son, have not only ignored this teaching, but have moreover shown a cruelty towards the poor creatures, which I could hardly have believed possible in a child of mine! You have acted cruelly, and in a blood-thirsty manner!"

Yitzchak Shaul trembled before the reproof and reproach in his father's cutting tones. He thought his father had finished with him when, instead, he heard his father saying in a very serious voice:

"You know that it is not in my nature to hit anyone, and I have never beaten you, but this time I am going to ask you to take down that 'cat-o-nine-tails' which you see hanging on the wall, and I am going to whip you. I want you to feel the taste of real pain so that you will better realize the pain you have inflicted upon the creatures you have so thoughtlessly persecuted."

Yitzchak Shaul gravely took a chair and reached up for the strap which he had never before seen his father use. This in itself impressed upon him the enormity of his crime.

His father very gravely took it from him and told him to stretch out on the bench, face downwards.

"Before I whip you," he said, I want you to know quite clearly that the only reason I am doing this, is so that you will the better remember the pain you have inflicted upon the birds and other living creatures.'

These were the first and last blows that Yitzchak Shaul ever received at the hands of his father

These were the first and last blows that Yitzchak Shaul ever received at the hands of his father, and he accepted them without a murmur.

After the whipping, Rabbi Nissan quickly went into another room without a backward glance, and a moment later Yitzchak Shaul heard his father crying, deep and painful sobs escaping him which he seemed unable to restrain.

When Yitzchak Shaul heard his father sobbing, he came to the realization that it was all his fault for having caused his father to do something so contrary to his nature, that is, use the 'cat-o-nine-tails' which had always seemed part of the furniture until then, and never an instrument of physical punishment.

This gave the little boy more pain than the actual whipping, and he determined from that moment, never again to hurt anything or anyone.

He felt the pain a couple of days, and walked about full of regret and shame for his misdeeds. On the third day, he suddenly went up to his father, kissed his hand, and asked him, with tears in his eyes, if he would forgive him.

Rabbi Nissan's eyes also filled with tears as he said to his son tenderly, "My son, you are still a little boy and I, your father, have to bear all your sins, which is not quite so serious. But it would be dreadful if you grew up to be an unfeeling, cruel person!"

Yitzchak Shaul felt a changed boy. He was so elevated since his father's "lesson" that he could almost believe it was someone else who had perpetrated the sinful cruelties which he had earned the culprit such a just punishment. During the following days and nights, he was haunted by visions of himself as he had been, chasing and persecuting the birds, dogs, cats, goats and flies. But gone was his previous pleasure in such pastimes, imaginary and actual. Instead, these visions filled him with fear and pain, and he knew he could never again inflict pain and be cruel.


Excerpted and lightly edited from Memoirs of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Vol. 1, pp. 334-338. Translator: Rabbi Nisan Mindel.

Copyright 2003 by KabbalaOnline.org, a project of Ascent of Safed (//ascentofsafed.com). All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work or portions thereof, in any form, unless with permission, in writing, from Kabbala Online.

Based on a memoir by the sixth Lubavitcher rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn; translated/ adapted by Rabbi Yerachmiel Tilles.
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Anonymous mumbai via kabbalaonline.org November 4, 2011

Really touching. Indeed we learn a lot from this story, one thing being that someone needs to continually keep an eye on their children so that they can corrected immediately before going a long way only to make the matters worst. Since children are growing and learning constantly we can't expect that they learn to behave properly all the time on their own. All matured and grown ups around need to know this and really need to keep educating the child on a continual basis not just theirs but others child too. Reply

Anonymous Edmonton, AB Canada May 14, 2011

What a beautiful story! The love and wisdom it illustrates is profound and, unfortunately, rare. That all children could have fathers and teachers like this! Thank you for publishing this for all to read. Reply

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