Volume 6 Issue 19
by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
In a portion replete with commands and laws that detail hundreds of the
most diverse aspects of Jewish life, our sages look carefully at the
juxtapositions of those commands, garnering even more wisdom and moral
guidance from the holy words of the Torah.
That is why they explicated the very interesting placement of two commands
that seem as diverse as ends of the spectrum. One verse tells us about
the laws of a treifah animal, "People of holiness shall you be to Me; you
shall not eat flesh of an animal that was torn in the field; to the dog
shall you throw it" (Exodus 22:30). The next verse tells us about carrying
a false or evil reports, "Do not accept a false report, do not extend your
hand with the wicked to be a venal witness" (Exodus 23:1).
The two seem quite disjointed; yet the Talmud in Pesachim 118 quotes Rav
Shaishes in the name of Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah who connects the two.
"Whoever speaks or accepts gossip (lashon horah) is worthy to be thrown to
the dogs, as it is written ‘to the dog shall you throw it’ and immediately
afterwards it is written, ‘do not accept a false report.’"
At first the connection, albeit homiletic, is difficult to
understand. What does throwing non-kosher meat to a dog have to do with a
gossip? The two seem totally unconnected. According to the Mechilta, the
meat given to the dogs is a payback for their reticence on the night of the
Egyptian exodus. That night, despite the cries and wails of the Egyptians
as their first-born were smitten, the dogs were still. "Against all the
Children of Israel, no dog shall whet its tongue, against neither man nor
beast, so that you shall know that Hashem will have differentiated between
Egypt and Israel" (Exodus 11:7). Therefore they are rewarded with the meat
that a Jew must refrain from eating. How is their reward of reticence a
lesson for Jews who slander?
I recently read of a man who was going on vacation to one of the islands
south of the United States. He wanted a room for himself and his pet dog,
and asked if the establishment, a hotel in Kingston, Jamaica, would allow
an animal. A few weeks later he received his reply:
I've been in the hotel business for forty years and never had to eject a
disorderly dog. Never has a dog set a mattress on fire while smoking in
bed. Never has a dog stolen a towel or sneaked an unpaid guest into his
room. Never has a dog acted disorderly, drunk or otherwise. Your dog is
welcome. If he can vouch for you, you can come along as well.
The Chafetz Chaim explains that the Talmud is making an amazingly profound
The reason dogs were rewarded was because their nature is to yelp and bark
at tragedy. Despite their instinct, they went against their nature and
held back. They followed the command of the Almighty and held their
tongues. The Torah rewarded their reserve with the spoils of our
control treif meat.
But when humans, who are supposed to control their desires and their
tongues, lose control, there is no better method to learn how to mend the
folly of their ways than through the very animals who mastered self-control
in most trying times.
How fitting is it that the two verses, one that rewards the canine for
constraint be juxtaposed next to one which upbraids their mortal masters
who unfortunately lose perspective all too often. We are the masters of our
animals, but more so must be the masters of our desires! Often, however,
when our dogs get their just rewards it is not only time for us to
appreciate their constraint. Instead of just teaching our dogs new tricks,
we can learn a lesson as well.
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Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
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The author is the Associate Dean of the
Yeshiva of South Shore.
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