We also have responsibilities
toward animals we encounter, to prevent their pain (law of helping an
overburdened donkey), hunger and thirst (Rabbi Leib), abandonment
(Rabbi Salanter), and emotional suffering (Rabbi Zusya).
Israel Salanter, one of the most distinguished Orthodox Rabbis
of the nineteenth century, failed to appear one Yom Kippur eve
to chant the Kol Nidre Prayer. His congregation became
concerned, for it was inconceivable that their saintly rabbi
would be late or absent on this very holy day. They sent out a
search party to look for him. After much time, the rabbi was
found in the barn of a Christian neighbor. On his way to the
synagogue, Rabbi Salanter had come upon one of his neighbor's
calves, lost and tangled in the brush. Seeing that the animal
was in distress, he freed her and led her home through many
fields and over many hills. His act of mercy represented the
rabbi's prayers on that Yom Kippur.
S.Y. Agnon, Days of Awe
Jerusalem: Shocken, 1939
Rabbi Moshe Leib
Hassidic Rabbi Moshe Leib went regularly to the weekly fair in
Sassov. One day, while at the fair, Rabbi Leib saw cattle whom
the merchants had left for a long time without food and water.
Rabbi Leib, sensing how thirsty and uncomfortable the animals
were, filled a pail with water and gave it to them to drink.
As he was doing this, one of the merchants returned. Thinking
Rabbi Leib was someone's servant, the merchant ordered him to
take water to a group of calves at the other end of the
marketplace. Rabbi Leib did not reveal his identity to the
merchant, but filled up a bucket and went off to water the
Zusya once went on a journey to collect money to ransom
prisoners. He came to an inn and in one room found a large
cage with many types of birds. He saw that the birds wanted to
fly out of the cage and be free again. He burned with pity for
them and said to himself, "Here you are, Zusya, walking
your feet off to ransom prisoners. But what greater ransoming
of prisoners can there be than to free these birds from their
prison?" He then opened the cage, and the birds flew out
When the innkeeper saw the empty cage,
he was very angry and asked the people in the house who had released
the birds. When the innkeeper found out that Rabbi Zusya had let the
birds free, he shouted at him: "You fool! How could you rob me of
my birds and make worthless the good money I paid for them?"
Zusya replied "You have often read these words in the Psalms:
'His tender mercies are over all His works.' " Then the innkeeper
beat Zusya until he became tired and then he threw him out of the
house. And Zusya went his way serenely.
Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasidim,
Vol. 1, p. 249