I grew up with dogs as pets: Dukie (a great dane who knocked me over so I hit my head on the sandbox), Cookie (small cute), Candy (about whom, it is reported that when my parents wanted to adopt her out, I offered to keep her in my room and care for her myself), and others. Still, the idea of having a pet as an adult, never really entered my mind. I am a believer that – excepting my wife, of course – I don’t want anything in my house that won’t grow up and sometime move out on its own. (I know, the kids will probably move back in after college. Its expected, and probably hoped for by Michelle and me.)
So every year, come the reading of the Torah portion Noach, I find myself feeling a little guilty for not providing my children with a pet. I think they would have loved it; alas, the guilt…
Over the years, with the help of a cluster of Congregation Or Ami congregants – especially Marina Mann – I have come to appreciate the intensity with which people bond with their pets. They have taught me that my pastoral counseling skills can be extremely helpful to those who mourn the loss of a beloved pet. They encouraged me to collect prayers so that people whose pets have died can have some Jewish way to mark the death. We have become involved as a synagogue with The Gentle Barn, a farm that takes in animals that have been neglected and abused. Some years we have sponsored trips by the Foster Children we support (120 at this count) to The Gentle Barn where children who have been neglected or abused find solace and wholeness caring for animals who have been neglected or abused. And this week, our family Shabbat service will center around blessing God’s creatures.
Kabbalists teach that there are five kinds of souls, or as I prefer to teach, five aspects of our souls. Animals possess three of them. We honor them as created by the hand of God, possessing a spark of the Divine within. We remember that Adam was commanded to be a shomer adamah, a guardian of the earth, watching over the earth and its creatures. In fact, Adam was on a first name basis with all the animals (Adam gave them names.)
In a world where humans are eradicating species left and right, it is time once again to
take seriously our responsibility to care for all of God’s creatures. They are part of God’s creation. They are part of our world. They are part of our (okay, “your”) families.