This Sunday morning, we're doing our annual Blessing of the Pets ceremony (10am in the parking lot, if you're around!). It's pretty much exactly what you're imagining, except I won't be putting my hands on the heads of each furry friend and giving them a personal blessing. Other than that, it should be a lot of fun.
So why are we doing it this weekend? You might have thought a more fitting weekend would be Shabbat Bereishit, where we read the story of Creation, because that's when all the animals came into existence. Or perhaps the Torah portion of Noah, where the innocent animals are spared the punishment of all the corrupted humans. So why now? Why Parashat Balak? This week's Torah portion is basically one cohesive story. An evil king, Balak, sends for a powerful prophet/sorcerer/wizard, named Bilaam, to come and curse the Israelites. He decides to go, but God warns him that he'll only be able to say what God wants him to say (and it probably won't be much of an anti-Israelite curse...).
One of the most famous characters in the story is Bilaam's donkey.
Much like a current movie star, the donkey can talk, and he has also got quite a bit of attitude! As they are traveling, an angel of God blocks their way while wielding a mighty sword. The donkey sees the angel, but Bilaam does not (which is pretty embarrassing for someone who's supposed to be a powerful Seer...). Bilaam starts beating the donkey for refusing to walk, and eventually the donkey tells him off for his offenses. Bilaam finally realizes that only God is truly in charge, and he himself cannot see, speak, or do anything contrary to God's Will.
This short vignette tells us everything we need to know about our beloved pets. They're loyal (as donkey reminds Shrek, er... I mean, Bilaam), they continue to stick up for us even when we take them for granted, and they're always there to carry us along through challenging times.
Some people think pets are unnecessary luxuries (or nuisances) in our lives, but really they help us to see the beauty in the world. They open our eyes to the simplicity of life, and help us learn mercy, compassion, and friendship. Even as Bilaam's donkey was getting abused, he still refused to let Bilaam be harmed by the angel. He could have bucked him and let him lose his head, but he remained loyal.
Bilaam takes his donkey for granted, without realizing that the animal was saving his life. I
wonder if we sometimes remain oblivious to the same fact in our lives. I'm glad we'll be taking a day to acknowledge how much joy, warmth, silliness, and companionship our pets are giving us. The rest of the time we might not appreciate how great they are. Unlike the partners of Bilaam and Shrek, our domestic animals can't tell us what they're feeling, or really say anything at all. So we need to make sure to express our appreciation for both of us.