Reward for the Dogs?


One of the ancillary aspects of the Exodus, mentioned in this week’s parsha, was that the dogs in Egypt remained silent during the plague of the Death of the Firstborn. 


When Moses informed Pharaoh about the impending Tenth Plague, the Death of the Firstborn, he adds:

“There shall be a great outcry in the entire land of Egypt, such as there has never been and such as there shall never be again. But against all the Children of Israel, no dog shall sharpen his tongue, against neither man nor beast, so that you shall know that G‑d will have distinguished between Egypt and Israel.”

Our Sages tell us that as a reward for their not barking and their display of respect for the Israelites, the Torah awarded the dogs with a specific type of non-kosher meat. The meat of an animal injured by a predator is called treifah (from which the Yiddish word treif evolved to mean any non-kosher substance). The Torah declares: “Do not eat flesh that is torn off in the field. Throw it to the dogs.”  Our Sages (Mechilta, cited by Rashi) state that this was the reward for not barking when the Jews left Egypt.


What is the significance of the dogs not barking at that time?  And what connection is there between the silence of the Egyptian dogs and the Torah rewarding them with non-kosher meat?


Moreover, why was the reward limited to treifah and not extended to other types of forbidden meat, such as neveilah (an animal that died without ritual slaughter) or unclean animals, etc.? Obviously, a Jew who has any of those types of meat must dispose of them somehow, why didn’t the Torah suggest we give those meats to the dogs as well?


We must also understand why, specifically, there was the added distinction between the Jews and Egyptians of the dogs not barking when the Plague of the Firstborn itself provided the starkest distinction of all, wherein not one Jew died even as every Egyptian household experienced at least one death?


A Miracle!


Tosfos, in their commentary on the Talmud, address the question of the importance of the dogs not barking. According to Tosfos, it was a miracle since the Talmud teaches us that whenever the Angel of Death is in town, the dogs bark. Here, despite the presence of the Angel of Death, the miracle was that the dogs did not bark.


However, this explanation merely begs another question, why was this miracle necessary? It is axiomatic that G‑d does not perform miracles needlessly.


No Slander


Another explanation is given in light of the saying of our Sages, “One who speaks lashon hara –slander - deserves to be thrown to the dogs.” In an earlier parsha, when Moses heard how two Jews were capable of slander, he was so disheartened that he questioned whether the Jewish people as a whole were worthy of being redeemed.


However, even upon the Jews’ departure from Egypt the dogs did not bark. It was an indication that the Jewish people had fully atoned for their sin of lashon hara and were worthy of being redeemed.


Here too the question can be asked: why it was necessary for the miracle of the non-barking dogs to prove this point?  Wouldn’t it have sufficed for the dogs simply not to attack the Jews? Furthermore, the mere fact that the Jewish people did not suffer any of the earlier plagues should have amply demonstrated that the Jews were worthy of being spared. Why the need for this unusual miracle of keeping the dogs silent?


Display of Fatherly Love


One may suggest that this miracle was intended to demonstrate G‑d’s love for the Jewish people in a fashion not seen in the earlier plagues. Silencing the dogs was G‑d’s way of demonstrating that not only was He prepared to liberate the Jews from cruel slavery, He did not want them to suffer even the slightest discomfort or annoyance along the way, such as having to hear the barking of the dogs.


The fact that this miracle was unnecessary for the survival and freedom of the Jews demonstrated that G‑d was not just trying to alleviate the harshest aspects of their bondage.  He was also going to “pamper” them by removing even a minor discomfort.


Where does this aspect of love and concern for the Jewish people come from? It is based on the feeling that G‑d regards us as His children. If we go back to the first time G‑d speaks to Moses, as he stood before the Burning Bush, we can discover the rationale for this added display of love.


In parshas Shemos we read:

G‑d said to Moses, “When you go to return to Egypt reflect on all the miracles that I have placed in your hand, and perform them before Pharaoh. I will, however, strengthen his heart, and he will not send the people away. You shall say to Pharaoh, ‘This is what G‑d said: Israel is My son, My firstborn! I say to you, send out My Son so that he may worship Me. If you refuse to send him out, I am going to slay your firstborn son.’”


As Rashi writes, this statement was obviously a reference to the final plague of the death of the firstborn Egyptians. And here we see how, from the very outset, G‑d let it be known to Moses, who in turn would let it be known to Pharaoh, that the relationship of G‑d to the Jewish people was one of a loving father to his firstborn child. This introduction that Moses received from G‑d was also specifically attached to the final plague of the firstborn, implying that everyone would see this as basis of their relationship at that time.


All the earlier plagues were designed primarily to punish the Egyptians, prove that there is an all-powerful G‑d, repudiate the Egyptian deities and magicians, and establish the unique status of the Jewish people. This final plague introduced a new dimension: that G‑d’s relationship to the Jewish people was beyond that of a benevolent King who seeks justice but rather one of a loving and caring Father.


How did this manifest itself? By what would otherwise seem an unnecessary miracle, He eliminated even the natural nuisance of dogs barking (when the Angel of Death was close by) so that the Jewish people could feel totally secure in their homes during the final plague. With this miracle, G‑d demonstrated that His loving relationship with us transcends all limits and bounds.


This analytical approach also sheds light on the explanation that the lack of barking demonstrated that the Jewish people were no longer guilty of the sin of lashon hara and therefore were worthy of their newfound freedom. When is G‑d’s fatherly love for us most pronounced? It is when we show love for one another. There is no greater pleasure for a parent than knowing that his or her children recognize each other as brothers and sisters. When a person recognizes and strengthens his or her relationship with a sibling who is the child of their common parents, it is also an affirmation of the parent’s role as a parent. G‑d, the ultimate Parent, feels the same about the Jewish people, His children.


Thus, the absence of barking—a sign of G‑d’s loving fatherly relationship with us—is a direct consequence of our loving relationship with one another.


Be Holy!


We can now also understand why the reward for the dogs was the treifah meat. The commandment not to partake of such meat is prefaced in the Torah with the words: “Holy people shall you be to Me; you shall not eat flesh of an animal that was torn in the field.”

The definition of holiness includes the quality of being different and apart. When a Jew realizes that, as one of G‑d’s firstborn children, he or she is different from other peoples, he or she will not eat treifah. Unlike other non-kosher meat, such as that of ritually unclean animals or animals that die without having been slaughtered, there is nothing apparently objectionable about this kosher species of animal that was slaughtered properly after being torn in the field. Nevertheless, the Jew refrains from this meat because he or she wants to show love for G‑d and thus acts differently. This is therefore the fitting “reward” for the dogs who did not bark. The act of feeding this type of meat to the dogs reminds us of G‑d’s love for us and our reciprocal love for Him.


Preparation for the Redemption


The events of the Exodus teach us how we are to prepare ourselves for the final and imminent Redemption.


It almost goes without saying that every effort at brotherly peace and expressions of Ahavas Yisroel - love for our fellow Jew - that is based on the concept of Jewish unity (Achdus Yisroel) is the challenge of the hour.  Not only do we need this unity to make us fully worthy of the Redemption, but moreover, as the Rebbe stressed, it is how we must prepare ourselves for the future when that unity will be fully revealed.


When we act in a holy (read: different) manner in our relationship with G‑d (as expressed by observing the prohibition against treifah meat despite its apparent innocuous nature) and when we act in a holy manner in our relationships with one another (where we find it painful to speak or even think ill of our Jewish brothers and sisters, with whom we share our Heavenly Father) we will see how the “dogs” (which the Kabbalists state are the forces of evil) cease to “bark.” We will then be ready to enter into the Messianic Age without even the slightest annoyance to detract from our peace and joy.