Let me tell you something about my life – my home is basically a farm. Some people have dogs – and yes, I have a dog. But I also have two chickens… and about thirty fish. Some of the fish live in a pond in the back yard that I dug myself last summer.
The chickens each provide one egg per day, and it’s my job to gather the eggs. Sometimes I open the door while a chicken is in the middle of laying an egg, and when that happens they get very offended and start clucking angrily at me. But otherwise, we get along really well.
The chickens seem to know me. When I walk up to the coop, they start running around in circles and making noises excitedly. They know that I’m the one who lets them out, so they can hang out on the lawn and eat grass.
When you think about how chickens are treated in big factory farms, where they are kept in tight spaces indoors and fed steroids to fatten them up so that they can’t even move, I’d say that my chickens are very lucky chickens.
By the way, in case you are wondering, I do eat chicken, but I would never eat my chickens. But when my father was a kid and one of his chickens had a cold, they would feed her chicken soup.
While I am not a vegetarian, my caring for animals has helped me to be more sensitive and I understand the need to go above and beyond what others might do, to teach myself that important lesson.
In my portion, the Torah talks about the Nazerite, a person who dedicated himself to God by going above and beyond what most people did. The Nazerite did not cut his hair, never touched grapes and never drink any wine.
The idea is to control our cravings by being extra-disciplined. My taking care of my animals helps me to become extra-disciplined too, because it sensitizes me to their feelings.
Here’s something interesting – before I got the chickens, I was interested in birds, and I heard that if you get quail eggs in the supermarket, you can incubate them. So, I did that, and in 32 days, from a dozen eggs, nine quail chicks were hatched. Unfortunately, three died right away. I took care of the others for several months but when it got too cold we had to let them go – so they flew away – and shortly after that we got the chickens.
For me, taking care of the quail helped me to become disciplined enough to take care of chickens.
Ironically, in the Torah – in next week’s portion in fact – quail became a symbol of the Israelites’ lack of self-discipline. They craved meat so much that when God provided quail, they kept on eating until they got sick – and many died.
So for me, those quail chicks helped teach me to have more self-control, so I could aim higher to fulfill my goal of caring for lots of God’s creatures, to go above and beyond, like the Nazerite. But for the Israelites, their uncontrolled craving led many to their deaths, and they were buried in a place that the Torah calls the “Graves of Craving,” Kivrot Ha-ta’avah.
Naturally, my mitzvah project also has to do with animals. At my school I am collecting donations for an organization called OPIN, Outreach to Pets in Need, whose mission is to “PROMOTE ADOPTION OF HOMELESS ANIMALS, AND TO PROVIDE ASSISTANCE TO PETS IN NEED THROUGH MEDICAL TREATMENT, TRAINING, AND EDUCATION.” You can find the link to donate on their website, opinpets.org.
We also bought some dog supplies that we are using for our bima decorations that we will also be donating.
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