Children have a natural fondness for animals. The simple sight of a waddling duck at a pond can elicit hand-clapping glee in a preschooler. Puppies are much more than pets, they are treasured childhood friends. Children find comfort in loving animals. They don’t need anything in return beyond a cute kitten’s existence. And being small themselves, children are especially attuned to the vulnerability of baby animals.
In my picture book, Moses and the Runaway Lamb, young readers see the famed biblical leader show tenderness to a small lamb who has clearly been naughty. Kindness to animals is an important Jewish value. In Hebrew this mitzvah is called tza'ar ba'alei chayim. The compassion one shows towards animals can be an indicator of a person’s character.
The rabbis explain this in a midrash about Moses, which I have retold in Moses and the Runaway Lamb. Moses and the Runaway Lamb takes place during the time Moses was a shepherd. One morning, a small lamb scampers away from the flock and her mother. Moses has to make a choice. Should he chase after the lamb? Or leave her alone to face the dangers in the wilderness? Moses refuses to abandon the baby lamb. He climbs one hill after another in the hot sun, searching for her. When he finally finds the errant lamb, drinking by a brook, he does not scold her for all the trouble she caused him. He approaches her gently and says, “Now I see why you ran away. You were just thirsty.” Moses allows the small lamb to finish drinking and then gently carries her home in his arms. Seeing the lamb reunited with her mother, Moses smiles, noting the importance of each and every lamb in his flock.
The rabbis say this act of compassion toward a small animal demonstrated that Moses had the character needed to lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and across the desert to freedom. To be a good leader, one needs to see everyone as holy and essential, no matter how small. I hope children will see Moses as a role model in Moses and the Runaway Lamb. Every creature is worth great effort to protect. And we show who we are by how we treat the most vulnerable among us.
Jacqueline Jules is the author of fifty books for young readers including My Name is Hamburger, The Porridge-Pot Goblin, The Hardest Word, Picnic at Camp Shalom, Light the Menorah: A Hanukkah Handbook, and Never Say a Mean Word Again. Visit her online at www.jacquelinejules.com