The Power of Appreciation . . . of Animals?

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 With Purim just in our rear view mirror and Pesach around the corner, I felt it time for some fun and levity. It’s not exactly in the psychology books as being one of the major forms of mental health treatment to appreciate animals and all they do for us; however after an important conversation with my 4th grade friend Menucha Rochel, student at the Bais Chaya Mushke school on Pico, I decided she had some valid points that we might all consider.  The Torah teaches us that appreciation and gratitude are cornerstones to spiritual wellness, but it just so happens that Menucha Rochel felt specifically as Jews our appreciation for animals should be particularly important. After her explanation I happen to agree.  The following are some of the key points Menucha Rochel made followed by my own commentary on how the idea ties with our mental health and well-being.

Point #1:  Be thankful for bees and rams because without them our Rosh Hashanah would not feel complete.  We need sweetness and purity.  Our souls yearn for them.  The honey of the bee and the sound of the ram’s horn bring us these things and on Rosh Hashanah these two elements of sweetness and purity wash over us like a cleansing wave preparing us for the year ahead.

Point #2:  Animals provide us with food and we need to appreciate them by saying brachot.  Menucha Rochel has a major point here.  Short of being a vegan, almost all people benefit from the gifts animals give us to sustain and nourish us.  So many of our rituals and celebrations rely on what animals provide for us at our beautiful meals.  The gift of expressing gratitude and appreciation through recitation of brachot, blessings, makes the animal’s contribution that much more special for us.  Further, our consciousness around the food we prepare gives space for us to pause and truly feel a sense of gratitude for having food to eat and share.

Point #3:  We are required to treat animals well because they are also HaShem’s creation.  There are a variety of ways we are meant to show proper treatment to animals from the way we feed and house them, to the way they are slaughtered for food.  Each aspect of care and treatment demonstrates a respect for G-d’s creation and this works as a great example for us. Even though we has human beings are superior to animals, we must still demonstrate care and compassion for even the smallest creatures in His creation.  Likewise, we must demonstrate care and compassion for all of G-d’s people and do what we can for the betterment others.

Point #4: Animals teach us about love.  Not just any kind of love, but unconditional love.  Our pets do not hold grudges, yell at us for our wrong doings, or chip away at our sense of self-worth.  Instead, they are just happy to see us and as long as there is food in the bowl and a place to play then life is good.  We can learn a lot from this behavior on many levels.  As Menucha Rochel so eloquently pointed out, this type of love—unconditional love—is what brings about ahavat chinam and ahavat Yisrael, love for all and love for all of Israel.  It was this most poignant point that sold me on Menucha Rochel’s theory of psychology that appreciation of animals really is good for our mental health and wellness.

With Pesach preparations getting underway and our redemption, G-d willing, close at hand, let’s all take Menucha Rochel’s words to heart and express our appreciation not just for animals, but for all the blessings in our lives great and small.  I for one will say thank you to Menucha Rochel for helping me come up with a thoughtful concept to write about in this issue of Community Links.

 By: Mia adler Ozair, Ma, lPCC, NCC

Mia Adler Ozair, MA, LPCC, NCC
is a licensed clinical psychotherapist and educator with a
private practice in Beverly
Hills, California. Mia is
licensed in both California
and Illinois and she can be
reached through her website at www.bhcounselingcenter.com, e-mail
at mia@bhcounselingcenter.com, office 310-
464-5226, or followed
on Twitter @MiaAdlerOzair

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