> Weekly Torah Portion > Beginner > Brainstorming with Baars

Animal Rights

Va'eira (Exodus 6:2-9:35 )

by Rabbi Stephen Baars

"And God said to Moses, Speak to Aharon, Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt.... And they shall become blood..."

Rashi: "Since the river protected Moses when he was thrown into it, therefore it was not struck by him... but was struck by Aharon." (Exodus 7:19)

My wife still talks about her encounter with a card carrying member of the animal rights movement. In what she thought was an innocent question, "What do you feed your cat?" her opponent took as a full frontal attack of her values. Seeing as most cat food includes animals, how does a true believer feed their cat?

There is clearly a different morality of animal rights and what is often called a humanist.

No moral person is at peace with the genocides of Darfur, Bosnia, or Rwanda. We may not feel motivated to march on their behalf, but we still think something should be done to prevent such tragedies.

Yet mention the wanton butchering of the Serengeti gazelles, or the recent massacre of the King George Island Penguins and you will have even a PETA member scratching his head - "Did I miss that one?"

Yes you did. That's because the gazelles suffered their fate at the hand (paws) of the Serengeti lions and the Penguins met their end with the leopard seal.

You might say it's a circle of life thing, but it doesn't matter how many birds eat worms, cats eat the mice, or alligators chomp on wild hogs, nobody is calling for a cessation of violence here. Fundamentally, animal rights has nothing to do with any concern for animals.

Just like Moses didn't want to hit the water, but if he really cared about the water, he wouldn't have let Aharon hit it either. So too, if anyone really cared about cattle, they wouldn't just protest their slaughter in a third world abattoir, they would also save them from dismemberment by the mountain lions in the hills of Montana.

It's not the animals we are trying to protect, they can eat each other for as long as National Geographic has film in their cameras. It's humans Green Peace is really trying to protect.

There is a real difference between how a human kills a cow and how a lion performs that same act. No member of the animal rights movement is calling for a world wide sanctuary for sheep, mice, penguins, or even worms, free from lions, cats, seals and the early morning bird. That's because, that's what cats do, and that was actually the answer my wife got.

And humans don't. Why?

Because when humans do, it's not the animal that suffers the most, it's the human.

Many people are familiar with the famous Jewish tradition to cover the bread as we make the Shabbat blessing on wine. During the week, bread is usually blessed first, and so that it shouldn't see it's deferral to second place, we cover it up.

But again, all these rich and elaborate traditions point to the overall emphasis that Judaism is trying to imbue on us all, empathy.

Believe me when I tell you, I have seen enough war movies that I really think I could pilot a plane. However, such confidence is soon dispelled in the cockpit of a flight simulator - and that's the reason they have such devices, reality is always more difficult than the fiction we create in our minds.

Just as we need a flight simulator for flying we also need one for marriage, children, neighbors, friends, well really for all our personal interactions.

Before we let you express yourself to another person, practice on some life simulators.

Animals, bread and water.

Wherever we can, practice, practice and practice. This involves killing animals in the most sensitive manner possible, eating bread in ways that show understanding of what it is like to be ignored, and even smite water to bring out your sense of gratitude.

And when you get that right, then you are ready to get married, have children and be part of human society.

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Question 1: You see a fox cornering a rabbit - ready to pounce. Would you intervene to save the rabbit? Does it bother you that the fox has young that will go hungry if you save the rabbit?

Question 2: Your country has a surplus of grain that will just rot. A country in Africa is suffering from a poor harvest and many people will go without food. Would you support sending the grain to them for free?

Question 3: If you don't send the grain, 100,000 people will die? If you do send it, the farmers of that country will go broke because the price of grain will collapse, making the famine continue longer. Now what do you do?


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