NOACH (Genesis, 6:9-11:32) — “Yerachmiel’s Ark”

The size of my family has increased considerably.

While shopping for a new home this summer, I was pleasantly surprised to find that one of the houses we looked at had a small chicken coop in the back yard.

Since my father and grandfather were both chicken farmers, I was intrigued.  The seller was planning to build a coop at his new home upstate and bring the chickens.  However, nostalgia won over good sense.  I told the seller, “I want those chickens!”

To make a long story short, I am now the proud owner of seven chickens in a coop and eleven fish in a pond.   And they all love to eat.

A few weeks ago, shortly after we moved in, I remembered a law that has something to do with this week’s Torah Portion.  Noah had a lot more than my additional eighteen mouths to feed.  He was busy all day, every day, taking care of his floating animal kingdom.  One day he was a little late feeding the lions.  A bite on the leg from the lion reminded Noah not to repeat that mistake.

The Torah tells us, “I will give grass in your field for your animals.  You will eat and be satisfied.” (Deuteronomy, 11:15)  Note the mention of animal food before human food.  We learn from this verse that one is obligated to feed his animals before he feeds himself.

For most of my life, this law was only theoretical in nature.  However, now that I am a “chicken farmer” (complete with an appropriately rabbinic dark suit, white shirt, and tie) I have to make sure the chickens eat before I do.  Upon realizing this, I immediately went out to the coop, before leaving for synagogue services, and fed the little darlings.

The next morning, when I got up, I made myself a cup of coffee.  (Sorry to disappoint whoever read my pre-Yom Kippur message.)  Suddenly I remembered that I had to feed the chickens.  I thought for a minute.  I reasoned, “I didn’t give them food yet, but they do have water.  I’m not eating breakfast; I’m drinking a cup of coffee.  I am not eating before they have food, and I am not drinking before they have water!”  I drank the coffee.

I finished my coffee and went out to the shack next to the coop to get the chicken feed.  There was a light rain.  I walked out of the shack with container full of feed, and proceeded to slip on the wet grass.

As I lay on the grass in a not-very-rabbinic muddy suit contemplating my predicament, I started laughing.  Noah’s lion strikes again!

In my house, chicken feed now comes before coffee.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

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 POSTSCRIPT:

Dear Readers, 

After I posted the above message, one of my readers sent me a note that forced me to rethink what I had written. 

I originally reasoned that this rule about feeding your animals before you yourself eat should not apply to drinking before feeding one’s animals.  I subsequently concluded that my original reasoning was mistaken, and that one may not drink before taking care of his animals. 

It turns out that I was wrong about being wrong! 

The reader told me that his impression was that one MAY drink before his animals.  I looked it up (something I should have done BEFORE sending out this message!)  

Maimonides (quoted by the Torah Temimah – I couldn’t find the original source) says that one may drink before his animals do.  (When Abraham’s servant asked Rebecca for a drink, she first gave water to him, and then to his camels.) He also suggests that the whole rule of feeding one’s animals first is not an absolute requirement; rather, it is a “Midas Chassidus,” an act of piety.  (The significance of this distinction will be explained shortly.) 

The Torah Temimah explains this difference between food and drink.  Sometimes people will eat even if they aren’t hungry.  Therefore, it’s not right to take a snack when your animals are hungry. Don’t eat yet; take care of the animals.  Why should they suffer?  Drinking, however, is more of a direct response to thirst than eating is to hunger.  Therefore, if you are thirsty, drink.  The animals will have to wait. 

The Torah Temimah concludes that even when it comes to food, people come before animals.  If you are hungry, you are entitled to eat before you feed them.  If you decide to feed them first, that’s very nice.  It’s the right thing to do.  It’s even righteous.  But it is not an absolute obligation.  People come first.

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This is a very significant concept.  Contrary to the opinions of those who feel that we humans are just another member of the “Family of Animals,” the Torah puts us in charge.  G-d told Adam to “… fill the earth and conquer it; rule over the fish in the sea and the birds of the heavens, and every living thing that roams on the earth.”  (Genesis, 1:28) 

To be sure, it is wrong to mistreat animals.  “Tzar Baalei Chaim,” causing pain to animals, is a sin.  However, it depends upon the situation.  Animal experimentation sometimes saves human lives.  I know a fellow who is walking around with pig’s valves in his heart.   

I find it very interesting that some of the same groups who insist upon experimenting on the stem cells of aborted children oppose any scientific or economic move that may disturb the environments of spotted owls in old growth forests and caribou in ANWR.  (Oops!  Did I just let my political views slip out? 😮 ) 

We may not abuse animals.  However, we may, and SHOULD use them to make the world a better place.  And yes, that means eating them too! 

It may be true that lion is the king of the animals.  But WE are the kings over the lions.

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To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.

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 Nimro-bama” (2009) 

…Society was uncomfortable with Abram’s “Inconvenient Truths.”  He said things that challenged their beliefs.  He contradicted Nimrod’s plans of absolute sovereignty.  He dared to accuse the “Great Leader” of being, well, merely mortal.  Therefore, he had to be silenced.

Last November, the people of America  displayed the “Audacity of Hope” and voted for “Change.”  As the bumper stickers ask, “How’s that ‘Hopesy-Changey’ workin’ out for you?” … 

Read more.

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“Murdering the Murderer?” (2008) 

“Two wrongs don’t make a right!  If it is wrong to kill, it is wrong to kill!  When we execute murderers we become no better than they are!”

So goes the argument of the anti-capital punishment crowd.  When we kill a killer we become killers ourselves.

There seems to be a certain amount of merit to that argument, except for one little detail.  G-d disagrees:

“He who spills the blood of man shall have his own blood spilled by man, for G-d made man in His own image.”  (Genesis, 9:6)

G-d made this statement to Noah and his children shortly after He wiped out almost every man, woman, and child from the face of the earth.  Although every human being is created in G-d’s image, G-d had no problem eliminating all but the eight members of the Noah Family.

Why not?…

Read more.

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“A Tale of Two Cities” (2007)

… G-d has limited patience with wicked people. Nineveh  was slated for destruction.  The prophet Jonah was sent to Nineveh  to warn them of their imminent doom.  They got the message.  They repented their evil ways and were spared.

As a result of their actions, the (belatedly) righteous citizens of Nineveh  serve as an annual Yom Kippur role model to teach us what we can accomplish by returning to G-d.

Now let us look at another Biblical city.  We will read in a few weeks about Eliezer’s journey to the city of Nachor…In Nachor he finds murderous, wicked people.  … “Laban, son of NACHOR”, (Genesis, 29:5) is one of the symbols of the enemies of Israel.  He is also identified with Balaam, who did everything in his power to curse and destroy Israel.

There you have it.  Two cities. Nineveh, which teaches us how to return to G-d and become better people, and Nachor, a city that teaches us treachery and unrepentant evil.

We, can, perhaps, see the roots of these cities’ differences in this week’s Torah Portion…

Read more.

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 “How to be an Orthodox Jewish Gentile” (2006)

Is it possible for a Gentile to practice Torah Judaism?  Isn’t that an oxymoron?  Not at all.  Actually, it is very much possible for a Gentile to practice Torah Judaism.  In fact, every member of the human race is obligated to do so.

We do not believe that every person is obligated to follow the 613 Commandments of the Torah.  There is nothing wrong with Gentiles eating pork chops or driving on the Sabbath.  They are, however, required by Torah Law to obey 7 key Commandments, known as the Seven Noahide Laws.  (“Noahide” = Children of Noah.)

What are they required to do?  Well, they could start off by disbanding the New Jersey Supreme Court!…

Read more.

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“No Pot of Gold…” (2005)

It’s beautiful; it’s a sign of ugliness. When you see it, you recite a prayer of thanks; when you see it, you’re not supposed to show it to anyone.  It is a sign of hope; it is a sign of frustration.  It is a sign of divine compassion; it is a sign of divine wrath.

Somewhere, over the rainbow, SomeOne is remembering a promise.  Somewhere, under the rainbow, someone has broken a promise…

Read more.

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 “Yerachmiel’s Ark” (2004) …

… As I lay on the grass in a not-very-rabbinic muddy suit contemplating my predicament, I started laughing.  Noah’s lion strikes again!…

Read more.

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 “Quoth the Raven . . .” (2003)

I hate ‘em!

My garbage pail gets knocked over by the wind, and before you know it, these big black, ugly birds are ripping open the trash bags, spreading the wealth all over my driveway!

Noah hated ‘em too…

Noah didn’t like the raven.  It was a cruel and selfish bird.  In fact, Noah didn’t mind endangering that miserable creature by sending it out of the Ark.  He didn’t understand what value there was in even allowing the raven back into the Ark.  He saw the raven as an unnecessary member of the animal kingdom. It was cruel to its own children.  It was inedible.  It could not be used as a sacrifice. AND, it was despicable…

Read more.

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 “You Can’t Climb a Grapevine” (2002)

… When Noah sobered up, he realized how his son and grandson had dishonored him, and cursed them. Noah blessed Shem and Japheth for their respect and sensitivity.

How did Noah, this great man, who is called “a man of righteousness,” descend so quickly to become “a man of the earth?” How did the savior of mankind so quickly find himself in a drunken stupor, subject to the scorn of his own son and grandson? …

Read more.

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 “Sweat the Big Stuff…and it’s ALL Big Stuff!” (2001)

… there is no such thing as “a little bit pregnant” …

Read more.

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 “A Pig by Any Other Name…” (2000)

… there are two types of laundry — clean laundry and dirty laundry. Would you reclassify these two categories as “clean laundry” and “laundry that isn’t clean?!” …

Read more.

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This is the weekly message at  TorahTalk.org. Copyright © 2000-2012 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain in  Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on October 14, 2004 at 8:17 am  Leave a Comment  

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