Pip and Yom Kippur-Personal Ramblings
It is not easy to put a beloved pet to sleep. It was clear that Pip was suffering. He couldn’t stand, eat, drink, or even relieve himself. He had to be relieved of his suffering, and yet, it was almost unbearable to be with him in the room as the veterinarian administered the drugs.
She first gave him a sedative to calm him and I insisted that he not be placed on the surgical table, but that I hold him in his final moments. He smooshed his head into my chest and looking up licked the tears off my face.
The decision to euthanize was the most compassionate, and yet I still felt guilty. I felt, with life and death of an animal in my hands, as if I were living the commandment, “If a birds nest chances to be before you (Deuteronomy 22:6),” which is the subject of debate between many of the great thinkers of our heritage, who use this commandment to explore the very purpose of Commandments.
“The Sages have already arranged it for us in Neilah, the closing service of Yom Kippur, ‘You have distinguished man from the beginning, and have recognized him to be privileged to stand before You, for who shall say to You, ‘ What are You doing?’ And if a person is righteous what can he possibly give You?’
Similarly, it states in the Torah, “Which I command you this day for your good (Deuteronomy 10:13).” Also, “And the Eternal commanded us to do all the statutes, to fear the Eternal, our Lord, for our good always.”
The intent in all these expressions is “for our good,” and not for His, blessed and exalted be He! Rather, everything we have been commanded is so that His creations be refined and purified, free from the dross of evil thoughts and blameworthy traits of character (Translated by Rabbi Dr. Charles Chavel zt”l).”
The only thing we can “give” God is to use this life for good; to use His Mitzvot to refine ourselves.
There are times when acts of compassion hurt. I thought of the Ramban’s reference to Neilah as the gates were closing on Pip’s life: We are reminded to use all such moments, “for our good,” to refine our character. Pip helped everyone in my family refine themselves:
Pip help me become a better, more consistent parent.
We jokingly referred to him as, “The Pipometer,” because he would tremble whenever someone in the room was tense. He helped all of us learn to manage our anger.
He taught us forgiveness; he would lovingly run to us just moments after we would speak roughly to him.
He was a great teacher of humility, because even when students would treat me with great honor, Pip would gently remind me that my job was to clean his poop.
He greeted everyone with a wagging tail and filled with joy.
He was great comfort whenever a member of the family needed a companion.
Pip was a dog. He was also a friend and teacher. He was a constant lesson in character refinement; that we can use anything in life, even a dog, to derive insights into ways to make ourselves better people.
If I can learn from a dog how to refine my character, I can surely learn more from the Torah and Mitzvot.
Additional Thoughts: The fast is almost over by the time we reach Neilah on Yom Kippur, but we can use our hunger to refine our character and think of those who are constantly hungry because they are too poor to buy food.
Our feet hurt and we can think of those who can’t afford shoes.
We can empathize with those who have yet to find love.
We can consider those who don’t have clean water in which to wash.
We can reflect on whether we have refined our character to constantly think of others.
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