Lessons My Dog Taught Me
Buddy showed me the meaning of love.
My husband was once walking our dog when he passed a woman who said to him, “You know, dogs are very dangerous.”
At first, my husband thought that she was reacting to the muzzle that our dog wears when we walk him. After a wistful pause, the woman continued, “Yes, they’re very dangerous. You see, I got a Labrador retriever ten years ago. At first, I didn’t care so much for the dog. I really got him for my children. But you know how things go. You feed him every day, you walk and clean up after him every day, you take him to the vet when he gets sick, you brush his fur and keep him from getting fleas. And before you know it, you fall in love with him. After a year or two, I realized that my dog had wormed his way into my heart, even though I didn’t think that it would ever happen. And then you have a few wonderful years with them. By the time they are eight or nine, they get sick and old. When mine was nine, he died. It broke my heart…I told you that dogs are very dangerous.”
Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler wrote a famous piece explaining why people love. Most people think that they love people because of what the other person does for them. Rabbi Dessler insisted that the depth of our love for another is proportional to how much we do for someone else, not how much we get from them. The root of the Hebrew word love (“ahavah”) is “hav,” meaning “to give.” As Shakespeare said in Romeo and Juliet, “My bounty is as boundless as the sea, my love as deep. The more I give to thee, the more I have, for both are infinite.”
Some people would claim that the bonds between animals and humans are a combination of giving and taking. We can learn from a dog’s loyalty to his or her owner the importance of this character trait in our relationships with both people and God. When my daughter tries to take our dog Buddy for a walk, he invariably sticks his nose under my hand and prods me to make sure that I come, too. He knows that I am the one who feeds him, who runs with him, who gives him affection when he feels lonely. My daughter is very limited in what she can do with him and for him.
If the three of us walk out the door and I don’t continue with them on their excursion, Buddy returns seconds later looking for me. I like to think that this bond is a result of the care that I give him. Why would he want to be parted from the source of so much good?
Model for Relationship with God
That is also a model for our relationship with the Almighty. He is the Ultimate Giver and Source of all goodness. But if we want to maximally feel God’s love for us, we have to follow His rules for how to have a relationship. The more we sacrifice for and invest in that relationship, the more we will love God. The more we follow His rules for having a relationship with Him and with people, the more we become like Him, appreciate Him, and feel His Presence in our lives.
We can keep the Source of everything good by our side.
When we leave home every day, it is easy to focus on what lies ahead in school, at work, with friends, or wherever we are going to run errands and shop. But we can train ourselves to want to take the Source of all goodness with us. If we think about the choice that we can make -- to go on our journeys with God by our side or in His absence, we won’t want to leave Him behind.
God gives us a tremendous gift of free will. He allows us to think that we are self-made men and women, and that we don’t need Him most of the time. He lets us live with the illusion that we control our lives and our destinies. One of life’s challenges is to realize that the substitutes with which we replace God in our lives are never as good as the real thing.
Everyone is looking for love and comfort today — often in all of the wrong places. We may get into undignified or superficial relationships, get involved with alcohol or drugs, or drift from job to job, or from place to place, never really finding what fulfills us. The emptiness in so many people’s lives is really caused by an absence of God and spirituality. We all have spiritual potentials and our souls yearn to actualize them.
One of our challenges is to realize that personal comfort is not life’s greatest goal — spiritual fulfillment is. We need a certain amount of comfort to give us a foundation to actualize our spiritual potential, to help us muster the strength to continually use the world for spiritual ends. If we put what God wants for us in the center of our lives instead of what we want for ourselves, we can more readily find fulfillment. If we are blessed with material comforts, with a loving family, with a good job, with our health, and the like, we should ask ourselves how the Almighty wants us to use those gifts to make His world a more spiritual place and use His blessings to feel close to Him.
When we use the gifts that our Creator gives us to better serve His ends, and invite Him into our homes, our daily lives, and let His ideas govern our relationships, we will find the ultimate Source of love. When that happens, all is truly right in our world.