What are examples of kindness to animals shown by great Jewish heroes?
Many great Jewish heroes of the Bible were trained for their tasks by being shepherds of flocks.
Moses was tested by God through his shepherding:
While our teacher Moses was tending the sheep of Jethro in the wilderness a lamb ran away from him. He ran after her until she reached Hasuah. Upon reaching Hasuah she came upon a pool of water [whereupon] the lamb stopped to drink. When Moses reached her he said, "I did notknow that you were running because [you were] thirsty. You must be tired." He placed her on his shoulder and began to walk. The Holy One, blessed be He, said, "You are compassionate in leading flocks belonging to mortals; I swear you will similarly shepherd my flock, Israel." (Exodus Rabbah 2:2)
The greatest Jewish teacher, leader, and prophet was found worthy, not because of abilities as a speaker, statesman, politician, or warrior, but because of his compassion for animals!
God also deemed David worthy of tending the Jewish people because he, like Moses, knew how to look after sheep, bestowing upon each the care it needed. David used to prevent the larger sheep from going out before the smaller ones. The smaller ones were then able to graze upon the tender grass. Next he permitted the old sheep to feed from the ordinary grass, and finally the young, lusty sheep at the tougher grass. (Exodus Rabbah 2:2)
Rebecca was judged suitable as Isaac's wife because of the kindness she showed to animals. Eliezer, Abraham's servant, asked Rebecca for water for himself. She not only gave him water, but also ran to provide water for his camels. Rebecca's concern for camels was evidence of a tender heart and compassion for all God's creatures. It convinced Eliezer that Rebecca would make a suitable wife for Isaac (Gen. 24:11-20). The patriarch Jacob also demonstrated concern for animals. After their reconciliation, his brother Esau said to him, "Let us take our journey and let us go, and I will go before you." But "My lord knows that the children are tender, and that the flocks and the herds giving suck are a care to me; and if my workers overdrive them one day, all the flocks will die. Let my lord, I pray you, pass over before his servant and I will journey on gently, according to the pace of the cattle that are before me and according to the pace of the children, until I come unto my lord, unto Seir" (Gen. 33:12-14).