Office of the Chief Rabbi

D’var Torah: Parashat Behar

Why do we feed our animals before we sit down to eat? Can there be any exceptions? The Chief Rabbi provides an answer in his D’var Torah for Behar.

It is well known that in our tradition we always try to give our animals to eat first, before we partake of food. This is based on the second paragraph of the Shema: V’natati eisev b’sad’cha liv’hem’techa v’achal’ta v’sava’ta. God says ‘I will provide grass in your fields for your animals, and only afterwards, you will eat and you will be satisfied.’

In our parasha of Behar however, we are told with regard to the produce of the sabbatical year, v’hayata shabbat haaretz lachem l’ochla – the produce of the land will be for you to eat, and only afterwards, v’livhemtcha, v’lachaya asher b’arzecha and for animals and the beasts which are in the field humans eating before animals.

‘How is it possible  that there are so many incidents in the Torah within which humans are partaking before the animals?’

And also we can recall details relating to Noah’s ark. There with regard to food on the Ark, God says V’haya lecha v’lahem l’ochla –  the food will be for you Noah, and your family, and for them the animals; the humans coming before animals. And also when Rivka showed such incredible chesed – loving kindness – to Eliezer and those with him, she said to him Schtei, v’gam gmalecha ashkeh, drink and I will also draw water for your camels. You, before the camels. 

So how is it possible therefore that there are so many incidents in the Torah within which humans are actually partaking before the animals? The Magen Avraham explains, we differentiate between food and drink. With regard to food, we give to our animals first but when it comes to drinking water, we can partake first. And the reason is that we’re having the same to drink as our animals are having.

‘It would be highly insensitive if our animals would watch us eating that incredibly delicious food’

Consequently, when they see us drinking and then afterwards they drink the same, they won’t mind. With food however, we sit down sometimes to a three-course meal, even a four-course banquet. It would be highly insensitive if our animals would watch us eating that incredibly delicious food and then afterwards we’ll give them just a few scraps, or something out of a can.

Consequently, with regard to food, we first feed them whatever we want to feed them, let them be full and satisfied, and afterwards we sit down to our meals. In the Ark, humans, that’s Noah and his family, and the animals all had the same to eat, so therefore they followed the rule of water. And so too in the Sabbatical year, the produce of the land was the same, for people and for animals; they followed the rule of water. But in a general sense, we first give our animals to eat.

Clearly emerging out of these passages is the important lesson that in order to be God’s people, we need to be considerate to all of God’s creatures.  

Shabbat Shalom.

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