We’ve been discussing the lessons for life that we can learn from dogs. Here’s a review, before we wrap up this topic:
- We throw non-kosher meats to the dogs; this is their reward for not having barked when we left Egypt.
- One who slanders is worthy of being thrown to the dogs.
- A slanderer behaves worse than dogs in that they at least were silent as we left Egypt; the slanderer does not control himself.
- Dogs are visibly faithful creatures. Even when they act up they don’t do so secretly, but rather act openly. This negativedimension of dogs’ openness is called brazenness or ‘chutzpah’.
- The dogs’ silence in Egypt was important because they are the prototypical loyal servants- and yet even theydid not bark as if we were betraying our Egyptian masters. This in turn showed that God alone is our true Master.
Why, though, do we give the dogs the non-kosher meat, out of all possible rewards that we could give it? This is the question that we have not yet answered.
The Ba’alei Hatosafos, medieval Talmud and Chumash commentators, provide the explanation: dogs are often used in guarding one’s flock (German Shepherds and “sheep dogs” are examples of this phenomenon). They protect the sheep from wolves and the like, even physically fighting them off in order to defend the harmless sheep under their watch. It’s precisely because of dogs’ self- sacrifice in guarding the flocks, say Tosafos, that when an animal becomes a ‘tereifah’ (literally ‘torn’, meaning it has been fatally injured) we give a dog the corpse as reward for its service, as it normally prevents such tragedy (uaually with sheep) from occurring!
What’s also noteworthy here is that the sheep may have just been killed by a predator, while the dog was supposed to have protected it- and yet this may be exactly when we choose to recognize its efforts!
Now, one may ‘suspect’ other animals of having ulterior motives under such arrangements, in which it receives the animal it failed to defend as its reward- it could just ignore its duties for a moment in order to get this prize! But the dog, open and loyal as it is, would not-and could not resort to such tactics; we can truly praise its dedication and trustworthiness by rewarding it in a way that says, “We trust you, and know that you are faithful, no matter what it looks like.”
We, as human beings whose elevated status is defined by our speech (see Targum Onkelos to Bereishit, 2:7), must learn from our canine friends. Rather than talk behind others’ backs, we should rather politely confront individuals who may have wronged us. Being open is the first step; from there, we must take care not to be brazen and combative as a disobedient dog may be. In fact, this mindset of dealing with issues openly and not allowing them to fester will train us to be loyal people. And just as we give the dog his reward even when it seems to have failed us, so must we be big enough to remember all the goodness we have already received from our friends, even when they have let us down at this moment in time.
In the merit of abstaining from slander and disloyalty, may we merit the time when ‘the wolf will lay with the sheep’ (Yeshaya, 11:6) – with the coming of Moshiach- speedily in our days.
Have a great Shabbat!
Elli Schwarcz is an alumnus of the Toras Moshe, Ner Israel, and Carteret Yeshivos, and has been involved in Jewish outreach for almost 15 years. He is a Hebrew School and English Language Arts teacher, and has a Master’s Degree in Counseling from Johns Hopkins University. Of all his pursuits, Elli most enjoys teaching high-level Jewish thought and Talmud to teenage boys, exposing them to the beauty and wisdom of their heritage while highlighting their own ability to engage in advanced Torah learning. Elli lives in Lakewood, New Jersey, with his wife and children.