I am fortunate to live about a 15 minute walk from the entrance of a large, forest-like 127 acre park. One of its many features is a very long, winding, paved path thick on either side teeming with towering trees and foliage and fauna. The road goes past a pond that several duck families call home, and leads to a dog park.
I very frequently walk on this path, for exercise, and to hopefully burn off Shabbat/Yom Tov calories, all the while admiring the leaf-laden trees. One is constantly reminded of the brilliance of our Creator especially this time of year, when the previously dark green leaves morph into colorful “eye-candy,” with hues of tangerine orange, strawberry red, splashes of cinnamon caramel, butterscotch yellow, and Bamba brown, to name a few.
I’m not afraid of dogs, so I don’t pay too much attention to the dozens upon dozens of dogs being walked by their owners, on either side of me, those headed in my direction and those going the other way. (Actually, when an aggressive, dog behind a fence, hurls itself against the fence as I pass by, barking with rage, significantly startling me, I angrily mimic it, growling, and snarling and barking back at it. I truly enjoy the confused look on its face. Usually my walking partner is impressed with my performance.)
But on Chol Hamoed Shabbat last month, I did take a second look at the dogs on the path. As I wrote in an earlier column, sometimes you notice a phrase or a pasuk, or a line in a tefillah that you read or uttered many times, and there is a nuance or meaning that you never realized before.
This happened on this particular walk – and I saw the achdut and acceptance that dogs of all breeds, sizes, shapes and colors have for each other. But that we humans are sorely lacking.
Typically, when dogs pass each other, their tales start wagging frantically in greeting, and they strain on their leash to get closer. Often the owner will pull the dog away and continue the walk, but sometimes the owners will smile, and mutually allow the dogs a “greet and meet.” Gleefully, the dogs will circle each other, sniffing with enthusiasm, and prance around, yapping or barking in joy.
What struck me this time was the fact that these animals have no guyvah chinam – baseless snobbery. (Remember, you saw this phrase first here.)
Some dogs are very large and shaggy, yet they do not hesitate to playfully jump around small, hairless dogs that resemble oversized rats.
The dogs are brown, white, black, tan, or a blend of all four. Some have custom made vests and booties, and “designer” collars; other look like they’ve seen better days and hopefully will have a bath sooner than later. Some are purebreds – with papers attesting to their pedigree – the canine version of yichus; many are mutts, whose ancestry is a guessing game, as they have features of several breeds.
But all this doesn’t matter. They recognize each other as fellow dogs. The “high end” dogs do not walk by the low end dogs with their nose in the air. Rather their mutual noses are happily exploring each other’s private parts, like old friends, and not new acquaintances. (But that’s only if the owners are okay with this level of fraternizing.)
I have seen this over and over again – true achdut. We are all canines – and equal. No matter our differences.
I couldn’t help contrasting this behavior to what many of us have experienced – some more than others – over the years. Being deemed not good enough to have even a minor social interaction – not even a gut Shabbos or gut Yom Tov from a fellow Jew as you walk by. Or not having your greeting reciprocated.
Granted some people are shy, or hard of hearing and feel uncomfortable greeting a stranger. But often , the people who ignore you are acquaintances from shul, or from the community you’ve lived in for many years. Some have a baseless snobbism or elitism because you are on a different socio-economic level, or of a different “shnit” hashkafically, and so you are invisible and unheard.
There are so many shiurim and lectures and articles – especially in Elul and Tishrei, about ahavat Yisrael and achdut, and that each and every one of us is a ben or bat melech, but not everyone absorbs this message.
Dogs instinctively know that other dogs are their equals, no matter their myriad of differences, and upon seeing another dog, joyfully and mutually acknowledge and accept one another. It’s a middah we should all work at obtaining.