Like many children, when I was growing up I had a chore chart. I received monetary compensation for doing small jobs around the house like making my bed, getting the mail, and putting away my laundry. One special responsibility of mine was taking care of our family pet. Part of my allowance was earned for giving our dog her treats in the morning and at night, and for making sure she had food in her bowl. Caring for a pet is often one of the first responsible acts we give our children. Even now at three years old, my daughter Shiri is responsible for helping us feed our dog Stanley at breakfast each morning and at dinner each night.
What you may not know is that feeding your pet is not just a good entry-level chore for a little one, but is actually mandated in our Torah portion this week. Parshat Eikev teaches us in many different ways how to build a community. It begins by asking us to make the choice whether or not we will live according to God’s laws. If we make the “wise” choice, we will be blessed and increase the love and acceptance in the world. Adhering to these laws means, at a basic level, remembering to say please and thank you. On another level, it means remembering that we are a part of something bigger.
Chapter 11, verse 15 implores, “I will also provide grass in the fields for your cattle – and thus shall you eat your fill.” The Talmudic commentators took special notice of the order of the words in this verse. The rain doesn’t allow us to eat first; rather, the rain comes so our animals will eat and then we will eat. In other words, the Talmud teaches us that one may not eat before feeding one’s animals. It isn’t just a chore to feed your pets, it is a mitzvah. Taken further, the verse reminds us that our responsibility is to take care of others who cannot take care of themselves before satisfying our own needs. In fact, our own hunger only adds to our empathy for others who are hungry.
God’s weekly chore list includes many obligations to others, but most important is remembering those who cannot feed (or take care of) themselves, including our pets. Responsibility comes in all shapes and sizes, but you’re never too young to learn what it means to care for others.