The “shero” that bravely fought against global terrorism this past week was a dog! The “wonderful” Belgian Malinois, as tweeted by President Trump, was injured when Baghdadi detonated a suicide vest on Saturday night inside his Syrian compound. Trump said he had declassified the image of the dog, but not its name. However, a Newsweek report citing multiple sources said the dog was called Conan – after the comedian Conan O’Brien – and was female! The US military typically relies on German shepherds and Belgian Malinois. According to CNN, this isn’t the first time American armed forces have relied on a dog for backup in operations targeting terrorists. In 2011, a dog named Cairo took part in the raid that led to Osama bin Laden’s death. Cairo secured the area around the bin Laden compound while Navy SEALs went in.
It appears that this past week’s current events and Torah portion have a common theme in the importance of animals. It’s no secret that I am a huge dog lover. Having been raised with my zaidy’s wolf dog “fressing” on marrow bones from the Shabbos cholent, to feeding our family dog, Lady Cinnamon Babka, I’ve always had a great appreciation for canines.
Tribesmen hunters of Afghanistan called the Afghan Hound “the dog of Noah’s Ark,” and the legend that two Afghan Hounds were taken aboard Noah’s Ark is a strong and persistent one. As the story goes, the dogs were among the last to board, and by then the ark was so full that the poor dogs had to stand at the door with their noses exposed to the rain and wind. During the tempest, the ark sprang some leaks, and while Noah was able to plug some of them, there were a few he couldn’t get to. He appealed to the faithful Afghan Hounds who stopped the leaks by putting their long noses into the holes. Who doesn’t love a good legend? The thing about this one, however, is the kernels of coincidence. In their wonderful book, The Mythology of Dogs, Gerald Hausman and Loretta Hausman write, “Although the Afghans’ presence in the Bible may be more myth than fact, one can still follow a “biblical map” upon the plain that is now part of Nigeria. Here, in the old African kingdom of Bornu, the ancient hounds’ relatives were said to set forth and multiply. The word ‘bornu,’ in fact, means “the country of Noah.” The geography itself is a vast tableland near the edge of Lake Chad where African myths say Noah’s family touched down after the Great Flood.”
Aside from dogs, Noah had to sustain every species in the animal kingdom, from frogs to ferrets, from tigers to tarantulas, from snakes to snails, and from giraffes to gazelles. The Midrash Tanchuma (which is not a fable) tells that one day Noah was late in feeding the lion. As a result, the lion struck Noah with its large paw, and he became permanently crippled as a result. I’m not quite sure how he managed to feed all those animals with their dietary needs in a timely fashion. However, the Midrash (Tanchuma /Emor 6) suggests that an entire society might be receiving rain, sustenance, etc., in the merit of the animals. The humans may have sinned to the extent that they do not deserve such blessings, yet G-d continues to bestow them in the merit of their animals, which committed no sin. Since our food might actually be in the merit of our animals, it’s only proper that they should be fed first (Yad Efraim/code of Jewish law).
To conclude with a fascinating story from Chabad.org: The holy Arizal once mentioned to one of his students that he had a “mark” on his face as a result of the sin of causing pain to animals. Upon investigating, this Torah scholar found out that instead of feeding their chickens in the morning, his wife would let them forage for their own food. When he corrected this, the Arizal remarked that the mark on his forehead was gone.
Perhaps it’s a lesson in giving, or perhaps it’s a lesson in responsibility, but taking care of your animals is a G-d-given mitzvah, which commands you to be sensitive to their welfare. Plus, you never know the great heroics they are capable of until the President of the United States tweets all about it!
Tobi Rubinstein is a retired fashion and marketing executive of 35 years who currently produces runway and lifestyle events for NYFW, specializing in Israel’s leading artists and designers. She is the founder of The House of Faith N Fashion, fusing culture and Torah. Tobi was a fashion collaboration and guest expert for ABC, Geraldo Rivera, Huffington Post, Lifetime, NBC, Bravo, and Arise. She hosted her own radio and reality TV series. Tobi is a mother, wife, dog owner, and shoe lover.