Hidden among the multitude of commandments listed in Parashat Mishpatim, 26 to be exact, we discover a particular strange mitzvah. Hashem writes, “And you shall be holy people to Me, and flesh torn in the field you shall not eat; you shall throw it to the dog[s]” (Shemot 22:30). It’s understandable that God wants us to be holy, as we have seen that several other times in the Torah, but we should give torn flesh to the dogs? Furthermore, what’s the connection between the two?
Hashem wants us to learn from the dog that it’s possible to overcome our natural desires and tendencies and act in the way of God.
Rashi explains, ”you shall be holy” is not a commandment, rather a promise if we fulfill the following mitzvah. Although that answers our second question, this makes our first question even stronger. Rashi then asks yet another question. It is permitted to give the meat to a non-Jew, so why does the Torah single out a dog? In other words, what is so special about a dog that the Torah specifically mentions it and that we become holy if we give torn flesh to it?
To answer this question, Rashi went all the way back to Yetziat Mitzrayim. During the killing of the fist born, “against all the Children of Israel, a dog will not sharpen its tongue” (11:7). During the plague, while the families of the Egyptians were being killed and suffering throughout the night, not even a dog disturbed the Jews’ peace and quiet. As a result of this kindness, the dog was rewarded with the extra meat we are commanded to give him. In the words of Rashi, “The verse teaches you that the Holy One, Blessed is He, does not deprive any creature of its reward”. But why were the dogs’ actions so righteous that they reaped such reward?
Rav Mordechai Eliyahu zt”l teaches that there is a great lesson we can learn from the way the dogs acted. The dog teaches us the ability to be in control over our desires and ourselves. Hashem told the dogs that ‘you can bark if you want but I would prefer you didn’t for the sake of the Jews’. Against their nature, they overcame their desire to bark and were silent. Their reward wasn’t so much for being quiet, but more for their conquering of their Yetzer Hara.
This explanation also helps us understand the correlation between being holy and the giving of the meat. Just as the dog had free will to do whatever he wanted, yet still acted for the will of God, so too Hashem gives us free choice to either eat impure foods or to be holy. Hashem is requesting, not demanding, that we “shall be holy”. Hashem wants us to learn from the dog that it’s possible to overcome our natural desires and tendencies and act in the way of God.
It’s not often that we can walk away inspired by dogs eating torn flesh, but it’s important to internalize this message regardless. Countless times throughout a given day we want to do something that may be not be so righteous and we go through with it without hesitating. However, when we are in that situation, we should realize that if a dog, who won’t have a close connection to God, can do it, all the more so we, Jews who can connect to Him on the highest levels, can overcome any test that comes our way.