#FamilyFriday at the Zoo

As you study scripture, you begin to see God's heart for his creation. His desire is for us to take care of it. He gave Adam charge over the creatures and the responsibility to name them. We who are parents know the joy of that responsibility when we give our children names. We, who bear the image and likeness of God; we, who came to life by his breath and are sustained by his word. There is a difference between us and the animals, of course, but that gives us no right to misuse them. When God gave the 10 commandments, he said, "On the seventh day you shall do no work, you or your livestock."(Ex 20:10) Other passages in Deuteronomy talk about not muzzling your animals as they work with you in the field, not placing a yoke on two animals that carry the load differently, and to feed your animals before you feed yourself. Later, again, we see that we are even to spare their feelings: If we must harvest eggs from a bird's nest, we are to shoo the mother away from the nest first. When it is necessary to kill an animal for food, the instructions of kashrut (kosher in Yiddish) teach us how to take its life without inflicting any pain. 

Hadassah loves animals with a passion. Her cat's name is Hatach (for you Bible nerds keeping track: Hadassah = Queen Esther's Hebrew name. Hatach = Esther's eunuch who carried messages to her uncle Mordecai). He is her guard cat. He was there by my side through almost the whole pregnancy, and he was there through 46 hours of labor and delivery, just waiting for Hadassah to arrive. Hadassah loves him dearly, and he puts up with a lot of her attack-hugs and kisses and blanket parties. Whenever she sees a cat or dog in public, she shrieks with excitement and won't stop chattering until we're long past the animals.

A few weeks ago we took Hadassah to the zoo for the first time. She saw monkeys and flamingos, tigers and giraffes and elephants, oh my! She watched bears take a bath, just like her, and she watched monkeys eating piles of fruit and vegetables, also just like her. She was in awe, and I couldn't help but be reminded of the purity of children and their nearness to God. That awe is surely what Adam experienced as he saw all of the animals that God set before him. Have we lost that awe of his creation? How can we get it back?

Wednesday night at Bible study, we talked about what it means to biblically "rest." We agreed that not just to take a day off from your day job, and it's certainly not laziness. It's a very intentional action. Exodus 20 links the Sabbath rest with care for animals. Maybe that's a good place to start a renewed perspective. On Shabbat, we make sure we feed Hatach an extra-big dinner before we sit down to eat ours. When Hadassah wants to stop to meet an animal, we sit with her and we talk about the importance of being gentle with God's creatures. If she hugs Hatach too hard and he scratches her, we teach her not to strike back in anger, but to be calm and gentle. 

What are some other ways that you can regain a childlike love for God's animals? If you have work animals, treat them fairly. Let them free graze on the Sabbath. If you take an animal's life for food, be mindful that you do not cause it to suffer, and thank God for providing it and for giving you permission to eat of it. If you have pets, don't be abusive when they misbehave. Remember that you have been entrusted with their care by God. Talk to your children about God's concern for the mother bird and how we can be more like Him.

C.S. Lewis wrote that just as we have been redeemed by the work of Messiah, so the animal kingdom is redeemed by our works. What a weighty obligation, and what a beautiful task. And what better day is there to bring the Redemption closer than today? Shabbat shalom! 

Jonathan MitchellComment