This week’s Torah portion, Ki Teitzei (Deut. 21:10 - 25:19) is a collection of diverse laws dealing with social concerns. Two of these laws have to do with kindness to animals. In Deuteronomy 22:6-7 we are commanded that when we take eggs from a bird’s nest, we are to first shoo the mother bird away, that she may not see her offspring taken. Deuteronomy 22:10 commands that an ox and an ass may not be yoked together to plow, as the weaker animal would be physically overwhelmed. An ox must not be muzzled when threshing corn, (Deut. 25:4) that it may satisfy its hunger as it threshes.
Later Jewish law expanded on the laws found in this portion and in other sections of the Torah to prevent cruelty to animals. This set of laws, which prohibit tza’ar baalei chaim, pain to living things, is in accord with the laws of bal tashchit, wasteful and destructive acts, which were enumerated in last week’s parshah. By these laws, God is telling us that we are not the only beings on earth that matter. Rather, as the stewards of the earth, it is incumbent upon us to have compassion for the creatures that we domesticate, and even the creatures whose lives we take for our food. We may be the most intelligent form of life on earth, but the Torah reminds us that all forms of life must be given regard.