By Rabbi Berach Steinfeld
When Yaakov is invited to accompany Esav and he declines Yaakov says, “My master, you know that my children are young and I have lots of animals under my responsibility. If I push them too hard, all the sheep will die.”
The question arises: if there is a danger that the young children might succumb to the quick travel, why is it that Yaakov only mentions that the animals might die? It sounds as if Yaakov cared more for his animals than for his children. Is that possible?
Rabbi Michelson explains this in his scholarly work, Shailos U’Tshuvos Tiros Ve’Yitzhar, siman kuf tzaddik. He elucidates the posuk in Parshas Toldos, Perek Chof Zayin where Yitzchok tells Esav, “Sharpen your sword and arrow.” Rashi explains that Yitzchok told Esav, “Sharpen your knife so that you may shecht properly to ensure that you will not feed me tarfus.” The Yefeh Toar asks the following question. We know that Esav had fooled Yitzchok into thinking that he was a tzaddik. Why does Yitzchok feel a need to warn him? The Yefeh Toar explains that Yitzchok accused Esav of becoming an animal rights activist, something commonly found in the “umos ha’olam.” Their opposition to shechita resulted in laws being made against it. Yitzchok was worried that as a result of those laws Esav won’t shecht properly.
In the same vein we can explain the words of Yaakov to his brother Esav that he can’t accompany him to Edom. Yaakov pointed out the danger to his animals because the Jew haters do not consider that the blood of a Jew is worth anything. They would kill the Jew in a heartbeat; whereas they have compassion on the animals and make animal rights laws and support groups. Yaakov figured that the way to get a listening ear from Esav would be to go straight to his heart; which is concerned with protecting the animals even at the expense of human life.
During World War II there was a Jew who escaped from a train that was zooming down the tracks to the furnaces of the concentration camps. The Nazis chased the fugitive. He quickly ran into a dilapidated building. As the Nazis neared the building, a dog started barking hysterically. One Nazi said to the other, “Let’s shoot the dog to get to the Jew in the building.” The other Nazi responded incredulously, “What! Are you crazy? You want to kill an innocent dog?” This story shows the veracity of the above discussion.
Jews are not cruel to animals. We run our lives with the concept of “Tzaar Baalei Chaim” as a guide for what we will or will not do. However, nothing is more precious than a human life! Let’s appreciate every moment of our lives!