Sunday, May 11, 2008

Shabbos Thoughts of the Animal Kingdom

During shabbos, one of my children raised a question that has been asked many times before.
"Why can't we have a dog?" Since the family is split on the issue, we have by default remained bereft of a canine presence. Many(though not all) orthodox families frown on dog ownership. It deepens my appreciation of human nature to see the spectrum of emotions and temperament refracted through the prism of species that are not human. Dogs have guarded, guided and assisted their owners for thousands of years. But owning a dog in the city imposes responsibilities upon its caretaker and the stress of close quarters.
My wife mentioned a point that resonated with me for most of Shabbos. She expressed the opinion held by some that non kosher species of animals can model undesirable traits to the people among whom they live. I asked her for a specific example. She pointed out that non kosher animals will reject their own offspring if it has been handled by a human, but kosher animals will continue to nurse their young to maturity. Having owned rats, mice and gerbils, I know that you are not supposed to touch the baby animals before they are weaned. This is also true of birds that have fallen too soon from the nest.
As the hours of shabbos passed, my wife's words continued to echo in my thoughts. I have thank G-d a few children, some of whom are now married. The topic of "at risk" children is on everyone's mind. The world is a far tougher place to raise children than when I was young. The problems of drugs, depression and promiscuity that plague the "outside" world are hitting religious communities as well.
There is a midrash that says that animals would provide instructive lessons to people even if the Torah had not been given. Ants model cooperative behavior, cats model modesty and dogs loyalty. Reflecting upon nature provides many metaphors for enhancing our lives. As a child, I considered the dog to be a member of our family. The idea of learning from an animal is not at all strange to me.
My thoughts shifted back to years of fatherhood. They shifted to my hopes and fears for my children. Is my door open? Is my heart open? Some children fall from the figurative nest. Do we pick them up and bring them home? Or do we reject them.? Some who claim to be children of Abraham have answered that question in chilling fashion with disownment and honour killings .
Spring is unfolding around us. The branches that are sprouting fresh leaves. The trees of the city bear a years new nests. Eggs are hatching and some birds are falling before their time. My wife's words give meaning to the sounds and sights of spring. They shape the whole vibrant picture into a personal metaphor.
As a teenager, I saw the Berlin Wall when visiting the city of my father's birth. The communist government spared no expense in setting up a high tech prison wall with mines and free fire zones. Many had been shot and killed trying to escape. Behind the wall was drab and austere city, clean yet dour. For years before Islamic honour killings became a common topic of conversation, there was the Berlin Wall. To me, the lessons are obvious. Honour killings and countries that seal their citizens behind borders that resemble prisons are unwilling to face the ugliness that drives their people away. Instead of creating beauty, they imprison their population, creating a grudging loyalty grounded in fear.
Outside my door, the sounds of the city mask the sounds of nature in the trees above. Every spring, the eggs of the city's birds hatch. By fall, they have left empty nests behind them. The sun of a long shabbos afternoon is approaching the tree tops . Thinking of Berlin, many years ago, and thinking of birds fallen from the nest, I watch my children play.
Copyright 2008 By Magdeburger Joe of and

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