Nachman of Bratzlav, the great Rebbe was walking with Rabbi Nathan, his greatest disciple, through town and they passed a fenced yard that was guarded by dogs. These were vicious, half-starved, half-mad beasts that rushed up to the edge of the property to lunge, bark and howl at the two men walking by.
Rabbi Nathan, the student, did what any of us would have done; he jumped at their barking, picked up his pace and cast those dogs a glance, hoping the fence was well secured.
But Nachman didn’t jump, he didn’t react like we would. Instead he stayed at the fence, and just said in a patient, calm and sympathetic voice “I know, I know”.
Later, Nachman explained that those dogs weren’t just dogs. They were souls trapped in the bodies of dogs, souls caught in the gilgul, the cycle of ascent and descent, and as they were not human, never mind Jewish, they could not perform the necessary teshuvah (repentence) to ascend again. Whereas Reb Nathan heard only angry, ferocious beasts ready to devour him, Reb Nachman heard instead the cries of pain of those who could not recover their own spiritual selves. And it would be Reb Nachman’s job to help release them of their pain, to find a way to descend toward them in order to help those dog-trapped souls ascend.
What are we to make of this story? Most of us don’t know how to talk to dogs, or at least identify when dogs have an existential crisis. (I don’t even have a dog.)
But more to the point, most of us – like Reb Nathan, the disciple – miss the spiritual element of the moments of our lives, of each individual encounter, as easily as Reb Nathan missed the souls trapped in those vicious dogs.
Rabbi Yair Robinson, a Delaware Rabbi, makes meaning of this story:
To be sure, we hear cries of pain; in those suffering from AIDS, from poverty, from humiliation and hunger and abuse. God-willing, we may even heed those cries and try to bring some kind of relief. But whether it’s in our own lives or in the lives of others, we often miss the element of holiness, the spirit, the Godliness, of other moments. Read on.
Again, I just ask:
How do we slow down enough to recognize the reality of each moment of our lives?
I’m sitting here with my daughter on our daddy-daughter day (she’s studying right now before dinner). Enough pondering. Time to focus on my kid.