My teacher, Rabbi Jonathan Slater of the Institute of Jewish Spirituality illuminates this week’s parasha by comparing Loving God to Loving a Dog. His first sentence grabbed me so (I’m not a pet person either), and it just got better and better.
I reprint Rabbi Slater’s wisdom here for pet lovers who might find meaningful this metaphor of God’s love. [Reprinted from Selections from Birkat Avraham: Ongoing Text Study Program, The Institute for Jewish Spirituality, on Parashat Bo (15)]
Rabbi Slater Writes:
I am not a dog person, but I’m watching family and friends who are and trying to understand the phenomenon. I’ve come to feel that part of it is that dogs allow us to express love and attention and never be rejected (and forgive me my mistakes – but the argument is for the sake of our lesson). As opposed to cats, dogs do not turn away impassively, ignoring offers of attention, blasé to expressions of care and concern. They pant, roll over, fall into paroxysms of ecstasy when rubbed just right. Dogs rarely reject the invitation to play, to go for a walk, or be hugged. They are always there for us, and receive our notice with joy.
Loving Like a Dog
From what I’ve observed, dogs don’t make us feel guilty. Sure, they may whine when we leave them. But, they don’t sulk (for long) when we come home – they lavish attention on us, welcoming us back. There is never a “what have you done for me lately”; whatever we are doing for or with them now is received with immense gratitude. And, while dogs do seem to have their own personalities, they mold themselves to their families with great sensitivity and insight. They know what we want from them, and they figure out how to give it unconditionally.
That is hardly the case with our human family and friends. There are always conditions, and the love we may wish to offer is not always accepted. We have decided that it is important to tell others how our needs should be met, and that they are not doing so. We are the ones who fall into and out of love. We are the ones who figure we can fix up our partners, while resenting every suggestion they might make for us to shape up. We allow our egos to get in the way, making our needs and desires, our fears and grudges, more important than the people who love us, more important than loving the people around us.
So, people turn to their dogs for solace, and for affirmation. In offering love to their dogs, and receiving love in return, their hearts find ease. Resentment thins, anger abates, confusion settles down. Dogs, responding with love, meet our love, inviting its growth. Received without judgment or challenge, we can once again allow our love to flow. Their unconditional love allows us to practice unconditional love.
God Loves Like a Dog
God, too, wants to be able to express unconditional love. But, God does not have a dog, only we humans. And we’re just not as good as dogs in receiving God’s freely given love. We think that if God loves us it must be like the human love we know: and so we feel we can tell God how we want to be loved, how our needs should be met, how God is not doing it right.
And we imagine that God, like we, will turn away from us to take care of other business, to watch TV, or play with the family. So, we are resentful, thinking that God wants us just to wait around until God gets back to us. R. Avraham is always inviting us to turn to that unconditional love without conditions, and to trust that it is always there. But, it is hard. We cannot be dogs. We are not programmed like them. We have to choose to give up our agendas, and actually learn to notice what is there. We have to turn to that love and receive it however it comes, whenever it comes.
Waking Up in the Moment to What is True Right Now
We have to let go of what we learned before, what we thought yesterday or last year; we have to recognize what is happening now, the conditions of this moment. Over and over we have to choose to let go of habits of mind and heart and be present to what is happening now, without prejudice or preference. This is what it takes to live our lives fully. That is, this is what it takes to be able to welcome whatever comes, knowing that this is the only life we have, and this is the only moment we have to live it.
We have a Choice: We can be a Cat or a Dog
We can turn away from our lives, looking only for the sunny patches in which to snooze and offer gratitude only when our bellies are full. Or we can be present to each instant, grateful for this moment of attention, delighted in receiving love.
We humans are imprisoned by our confusion, our fear, our pain, our needs; God … cannot force us to receive love. We can be liberated when we learn to connect to each moment, to receive the love offered in this breath, this instant of aliveness. And God will be redeemed when God’s love is accepted by our open, willing hearts.