When an ox or a sheep or a goat is born, it shall remain under its mother for seven days; and from the eighth day on, it is acceptable for a fire-offering to Hashem. But an ox or a sheep or goat, you may not slaughter it and its offspring on the same day. (Vayikra 22:27–28)
This strange law requires a Jew to wait seven days before slaughtering a newborn animal as a sacrifice. Animals do not have familial feelings one for another. Hashem has given each animal instincts that naturally connect the mother to the child for the short time period when the offspring is dependent on the mother for survival. Animals, however, gain their independence after a very short time and it is then that the sense of caring relationship is extinguished. The fact that humans care and feel for their offspring throughout their lives and forward to succeeding generations of grandchildren and great-grandchildren is a distinguishing factor between man and animal. Only humans support their offspring financially for many years and teach their children and grandchildren the values and skills necessary for a happy, successful life.
Even though the Torah reveals to us Hashem’s desire that we bring sacrifices, it also commands us not to do so without regard to the “feelings” of the animals. The intent is to train us to heighten our sensitivity to others and to take into consideration the “feelings” of the beast. This law also unites the Jewish people because if one were to slaughter the mother, then all other Jews thereby are forbidden to slaughter the offspring. Although one generally cannot make something forbidden for another, this law extends the actions of one Jew to all others, no matter where on earth they may be.
Of course, such training in feeling for an animal is designed to focus our attention to other people’s sensitivities before we act. This is of utmost importance when one is at home dealing daily with one’s spouse or children. The home is an incubator where daily conduct should be used to learn how to treat others outside the home based on proper behavior. By exhibiting such behavior time and time again in a home setting, it almost becomes habitual when outside the home.
In these days, as we complete the period of mourning for the students of Rabi Akiva, we should keep in our minds the cause of their unusual deaths in such a compressed time period. The Gemara (Yevamot 62b) teaches that these great Torah scholars failed to show proper respect one to another. For people so engrossed in Torah study under the tutelage of such a great Torah scholar as Rabi Akiva, to not respect one another constituted a desecration of Hashem’s name whose punishment was death through askarah — a disease which chokes a person’s breathing apparatus. We are taught that the underlying cause was a lack of feeling for the other.
We must take warning from these special people. All the merit of Torah study that they had could not protect from behavior caused by a character flaw. We, who lack merit, all the more so must train ourselves in good character and in sensitivity to others, first at home and then in society at large, to live in a way pleasing to Our Creator and thereby filled with blessing. Amen!