When the hen sings, "He gives nourishment to all flesh, for His lovingkindness endures forever" (Psalm 136:25), she is reminding us of our own potential to emulate the Divine nurturing of all creatures. For we are created in the Divine image; thus, there is a mitzvah to "go in His ways" (Deuteronomy 28:9). And in order "to go in His ways," we need to remember that the Divine benevolence is extended to all, as it is written: "The Compassionate One is good to all, and His compassion is on all His works" (Psalm 145:9); moreover, as the hen sings, "He gives nourishment to all flesh."
With the approach of Shabbos, I am sharing with you the following stories which are in the spirit of the hen's song:
1. Rebbitzen Hannah Hirsch, the wife of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, would put food on her window sill every morning for the sparrows who gathered there. After her passing, Rabbi Hirsch continued this practice until his last days. When he was on his final sickbed, he told his sons not to forget to take care of the birds. (This story is found in the ArtScroll biography, "Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch" by Rabbi Eliyahu Meir Klugman: For further information on this inspiring biography, visit: http://www.artscroll.com/linker/hazon/ASIN/RSRP . )
2. The poor Jews who lived in the villages of Eastern Europe often supplemented their meager income by having some chickens and even a cow or a goat in their yard. The accomplished Talmud scholar, Rabbi Isaac Rosensweig, was one of these poor Jews who tried to make a living by raising chickens. After the German army invaded his village in World War 2, Rabbi Isaac was deported to the death camps. The German soldiers laughed when he cried out beseechingly from the window of the death train, "Go to my house and give the chickens food and water, for they have not touched food and water for a whole day!" Then Rabbi Isaac noticed his comrade, Rabbi Moshe Yudah Tziltz, who had not yet been summoned by the authorities, standing at distance. With a loud cry, he called out to him, "Afflicting animals is forbidden by Torah law! Give the chickens food and water!" (This story appears in, "The Vision of Eden - Animal Welfare and Vegetarianism in Jewish Law and Mysticism" by David Sears, Orot: www.orot.com .)
3. Despite his aura of reverence for God, Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian (1876-1970), a noted teacher of Mussar (Torah ethics), always exuded gentleness and love, not only to human beings who are created in the Divine image, but to animals as well. Once he noticed a lost kitten that had taken refuge in the yeshiva (Torah academy) of Kfar Chassidim, a village in Northern Israel. Immediately, he became this kitten's patron and concerned himself with all its needs. This elderly sage placed a saucer of milk before the purring kitten every morning, and with pleasure, he watched it take each sip from the milk. (Ibid)
The Torah's teachings concerning compassion for all creatures and the stories of righteous souls who strive to implement these teachings have served as a source of inspiration in my own life. My own soul feels good when I provide food for hungry creatures, but I must confess that cats are not among my favorite creatures. Nevertheless, my commitment to the Covenant of Torah gives me the strength to overcome my personal feelings, and I have fed hungry cats when there was a need. For example, one day, when I descended the stairs that lead to the entrance of my apartment building, a kitten came right over to me and began purring. And in case I didn't get the message that she was hungry, she began rubbing against my shoe. I was a bit surprised, since the cats in this Jerusalem neighborhood are wild, and they usually keep their distance from human beings. I realized that a possible reason why she came over to me is that she may have been fed before by a human being. I went down the stairs, entered my building, and then went down the staircase to my garden apartment in order to find some food for her. When I returned with some nourishment, she was very happy.
The next morning, I hear a scratching on my door! I open the door, and there she was, purring softly. I again brought her some food and placed it outside, and this became a daily routine. This female kitten grew, and one day I saw her running together with a young male cat. I think she "eloped" with him, as she never returned. In fact, I never received an invitation to their wedding! Nevertheless, I had no hard feelings, for I was grateful for having been given the opportunity to fulfill the mitzvah of emulating the ways of the Compassionate One.
Have a Good and Sweet Shabbos,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen