"Remember the Shabbos day to sanctify it. Six days shall you labor and accomplish all your work; but the Seventh Day is a Shabbos to the Compassionate One, your God. On it you shall not perform any kind of work - not you, your son, your daughter, your servant, your maidservant, or your animal; nor the stranger within your gates." (Exodus 20:8-10).
There is a mitzvah – Divine mandate - not to cause our animals to do work on Shabbos. The book "Nefesh Kol Chai" cites some halachic sources which state that this mitzvah is connected to the Torah's prohibition against "tzaar baalei Chayim" - causing needless suffering to living creatures. Why, however, should causing our animals to work on Shabbos be a form of tzaar baalei chayim? After all, does not the Torah give us permission to cause them to work under humane conditions during the six days of the week? If so, then why can't we cause them to do some work on Shabbos under humane conditions? The beginning of the answer to this question can be found in the following verse which serves as another source for this mitzvah:
"Six days shall you do your tasks, and on the seventh day you shall cease, so that your ox and your donkey 'yanuach' - will have restful contentment" (Exodus 23:12).
The Hebrew word "yanuach" is related to the word "menuchah" - restful contentment. According to a midrashic commentary known as the "Mechilta," the word "yanuach" is therefore teaching us that in addition to resting from physical work on Shabbos, our animals are also free to go into the fields and graze without being disturbed. The classical commentator, Rashi, cites this teaching of the Mechilta, and a noted commentator on Rashi offers the following explanation: "On Shabbos, our animals are to have contentment of the heart" (Be'ar Yitzchak, cited by Sha'arei Aharon).
In this spirit, "Nefesh Kol Chai" states in the name of the Ohr Somayach that on the Holy Shabbos, the Torah wants animals "to have contentment and pleasure." This is the mandate of Hashem – the Compassionate One.
Regarding this mandate, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch writes:
"On the Seventh Day, the human being refrains from exercising his own rule over any of Hashem's creatures and humbly subordinates himself and his world to the Creator. While he observes the Shabbos, the Shabbos teaches him to respect every other creature alongside himself, as all are equal before Hashem, and all are His children. This dismantling of the human being's rule over all creatures is one of the objectives of the Shabbos - the day on which the human being shows homage to Hashem - so that the animals who work and bear burdens should have rest from working for the human being." (Commentary to Exodus 23:12)
Yes, during the week, we have limited dominion over the animals in our possession, which includes the right to have them work for us under humane conditions. This right, however, is taken away from us on Shabbos, as the animals are given the right to rest during the entire Shabbos and to experience contentment of the heart. As a result, any attempt to force them to work on Shabbos is considered to be needless suffering - tzaar baalei chayim!
Have a Good and Sweet Shabbos,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
1. There is an ancient story about a non-Jewish man living in the Land of Israel who became inspired to accept the Torah after witnessing how a cow that once belonged to a Jewish man would not work on Shabbos. This convert later became a Torah sage. The story appears in the archive on our website (lower section), and the following is a direct link: http://www.shemayisrael.co.il/publicat/hazon/tzedaka/cow.htm
2. As the custodians of the earth and its creatures (Genesis 2:15), human beings only have a limited form of dominion. We discussed this issue in a previous letter of this series titled, "The Limits of Human Dominion," and it appears in the archive on our website (lower section). The following is a direct link: http://www.shemayisrael.co.il/publicat/hazon/tzedaka/limits.htm