O ur treatment of animals is increasingly part of the public conscience. So let’s remember why, according to the Rabbis, Moses was chosen for leadership.
In the Midrash we are told: When Moses shepherded the flocks of his father-in-law Jethro, on one occasion a kid ran away and Moses ran after it until it came to a tree with a pool of water. The kid stood there and drank, and when Moses overtook it, he said, “I did not know you ran away because you were thirsty. You must also be tired.” So he raised the animal on his shoulders and carried it back to the flock. Witnessing this display of mercy, God chose Moses as the leader of Israel.
Kindness to animals is an index of the moral health of an individual and a society. All living things are worthy of decent treatment. The Talmud admonishes us to feed our animals before we feed ourselves. And for those who will not go all the way to vegetarianism, kosher slaughter is intended to minimize pain to the animal. As the Psalmist says (145:9), “God has compassion on all God has created.” Surely we should too.
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe. His latest book is “David: The Divided Heart” (Yale University Press).