The information below is true, as much as you may want it not to be. It was reported on NPR on March 23, 2013.
There is a man whose name I won’t tell you, who has a dog, whose name I will tell you. It’s Piney. Piney was named that because his “Mommy” had a dream that she would have dog named Piney. Piney is a very temperamental dog to say the least.
Piney is brown pit bull with big white patches whowas picked up from a shelter, and was evidently abused in his former life. On the one hand, he is timid and fearful, often afraid of birds or puppies much smaller than he. This fear and anxiety that he suffers from is so great that he must take Valium to calm himself down. On the other hand, when fearful, he can be extremely aggressive. He can’t take a walk in the street near men, because if any man looks him in the eye he lunges at them and tries to attack them.
Since being adopted by he-who-must-not-be-named, he has already bitten seven people. He started at a wedding when he bit a nine year old sister of the bride and then her little brother. He continued over the years by biting a host of random strangers, augmented with multiple attacks on his Mommy. Each time he has drawn blood. His behavior is so erratic, that Mom and Dad have not allowed anyone into the house for the last seven years, lest the dog attack them. None of their friends have ever seen the inside of their apartment. As you can imagine, Mom and Dad have no biological children, raising a child around Piney would be rightful cause for a call to CPS.
Every morning, Dad wakes up at 5am, gets dressed, puts on his shoes and his coat, and walks down five flights of steps in order to bring Piney outside so that Piney can take care of business while the streets are still empty and there is no concern that Piney will attack anyone. When they get back to the house, Piney gets anxious, because Mom is sleeping, and he thinks Dad is going to try to harm Mom. So every day, Piney lunges at Dad, trying to kill him, and this goes on until Dad can distract him with a toy.
In addition to anxiety, Piney suffers from severe allergies. Piney has four doctors that he goes to regularly, and one of them recommended that they put Piney on a simple diet of one protein and one starch, and serve him the same thing at every meal. So Mom and Dad began cooking for Piney, and most of the cooking done in the house is for the dog. This worked, and the allergic reactions went away, but after a few months he usually begins having a reaction to that particular protein, which means that mom and dad have to go procure a new protein. So far, Piney has been through: meat, pork, tuna, rabbit, ostrich, bison, venison, and kangaroo.
Kangaroo meat is a bit tough to buy here in the United States of Normal. There were two kinds of kangaroo that Piney needed, large chunks to be cooked with the starch for meals, and small bits into which Piney’s many medications could slipped. The large prepackaged chunks of meat were shipped to Dad’s workplace, where people were curious about the chunks of kangaroo coming in boxes on dry ice. The tidbits were available in one butcher shop in all of their city, but it was an hour subway ride away, which means that Dad would have to travel two hours every couple of weeks to get the kangaroo tidbits.
During an interview, Dad joked that the logical conclusion of all of this is that eventually the only meat left that Piney is not allergic to is human meat and then Mom and Dad will just have to feed themselves to Piney. At which point the interviewer pointed out that metaphorically that is already occurring…
If you’re like me, you probably chuckled incredulously when reading about Piney; “How can people become such slaves to a dog?” You might have even experienced a moment of righteous schadenfreude, it serves them right for not putting down that child-biter! But the truth is that we all own a Piney. Piney is simply a physical representation of our own negative traits, our Yetzer Hara.
Each of us has a different Piney, for some it is jealousy, anger, lust, selfishness, or gossip, for others it might be laziness, pride, the need to please, greed, or gluttony. Unchecked, that character trait will rule over our lives. We will find ourselves going to the greatest lengths to satisfy that particular trait, to the point where anyone hearing about it would be incredulous. “Could he really be that arrogant that he doesn’t realize we all see right through his ‘subtle’ ways of praising himself? How can she be so lazy, why doesn’t she get off her couch and get a job? What’s wrong with him, he’s already morbidly obese, but there he is shoveling food down his gullet like he’s about to hibernate for six months?”We’re pretty sure that if anyone could see our Piney, they would look at us with the same schadenfreude as we look at Piney’s Mom and Dad.
Inside of us is a Piney voice that can be at once fearful and anxious while also being aggressive and controlling. It is usually afraid of change and filled with anxiety about the future, and will fight aggressively to maintain the status quo anytime it feels any one is being critical of us or our Piney.
The Talmud(Tractate Succah, 52B), when describing the Yetzer Hara, our negative inclinations, says:
Rabbi Shimon Ben Lakish said: “A man’s evil inclination threatens every day to overpower him, and seeks to kill him, as the verse says, (Psalms, 37:32) ‘The wicked one watches for the righteous person and seeks to slay him.’ And if not for the Holy One, Blessed is He, Who aids him, he would be unable to withstand it, as it says (Ibid, v.33) Ha-shem will not leave him in his hand, nor condemn him in His judgment.’”
Piney is incredibly powerful. Although at times he looks like nothing other than an innocent puppy, a little defect of ours that is kind of cute, just a quirk of our personality, if left uncurbed, it can take over our lives. We need to conscientiously determine what our Piney is (most of us know this instinctively), we need to ask G-d’s help in removing it from our lives, and we need to do everything we can to make sure that it stays away.
The question we have to ask ourselves is: do I control my Piney or does Piney control me.
Parsha Dvar Torah
In this week’s Parsha, we find Avraham trying to find a proper shidduch, a match, for his son, Yitzchak. Avraham’s trusted servant Eliezer is sent on this important mission. Soon after leaving, he meets Rivka, a girl from a good family who also happens to have the prerequisite character traits of kindness and humility that make her a prime candidate for the shidduch. She invites Eliezer to her home and he graciously accepts.
“ The man (Eliezer) came into the house and unmuzzled the camels. He gave the camels straw and fodder…Food was set before him,” (Gen 24:32-33) The commentators wonder
hy the Torah went out of its way to inform us that Eliezer fed his camels. Would we have thought that he starved his camels?
One answer is that this shows us that Eliezer was meticulous in a very important mitzvah that applies to many of us today. The Halacha says that a person is supposed to feed his animals before feeding himself. This is derived from a verse in the second paragraph of Shema “And I will provide grass in your field for your animals, and you will eat and be full.” (Deut 11:15). We see that Hashem concerns Himself with providing for our animals first, and then for us. If we want to emulate Hashem, we too must do the same. If we have a pet, we need to ensure that it is fed before we have our own meal.
The verses here regarding Eliezer indicate that he too followed this precept. It wasn’t enough for him to feed his animals, he needed to feed them before food was put before him. “He gave the camels straw and fodder…” and only after that “Food was set before him.”
Sensitivity to animals is not only a mitzvah, it is also a litmus test for Jewish leaders in many occasions. In this week we find that Eliezer devises a test to determine who would be a woman worthy of marrying Isaac. The test revolved around finding a girl who would not only be willing to give Eliezer a drink, but would be willing to water his thirsty camels as well. Moshe sees his vision of Hashem in the burning bush while running after a stray lamb to lead it back home. King David is busy tending sheep when Samuel comes to anoint him as king of the Jewish people.
Displaying kindness to all of Hashem’s creatures is the hallmark of someone who recognizes and respects their source. Let’s keep this important mitzvah in mind, and even if we don’t have a pet or any other animals, let’s learn from the Torah’s remarkable sensitivity to all creatures great and small!
This week’s Parsha begins with the passing of Sara, the first of the matriarchs. The Torah tells us about the difficulty that Avraham underwent trying to buy the proper burial place for his family. Avraham dealt with a person that would make a used car salesman look like a saint. The place was called Me’arat Hamachpela, where Adam and Eve were buried.. (Today, Adam and Eve, Avraham and Sarah, Yitzchak and Rivka, and Jacob and Leah, are all buried there. You can still visit this holy site in Israel, although Arabs control Hebron where the Me’arat Hamachpela is located and you need a military escort.
Efron the Chiti, the owner of the aforementioned cave, pretends to want to give the field to Avraham for free, knowing that Avraham won’t take it. This prevents Avraham from bargaining when Efron says, “So let’s just get the deal over with. Here, just give me $40,000,000 which is nothing between friends, and you can go bury your deceased.” (The number wasn’t in USD; I’m using a little writer’s license.) Parenthetically, this was another challenge Avraham had to face, paying an exorbitant price for his wife’s burial place when Hashem had promised him the entire land! Avraham pays the money without complaint, realizing that the proper burial place for the patriarchs and matriarchs of the Jewish nation is priceless.
After burying Sara, Avraham immediately starts to work on finding a mate for his son. With the Akeida fresh in his mind, Avraham feels the urgency of continuing the line of his progeny and dispatches Eliezer to find a wife for his son. Avraham makes Eliezer swear before he leaves that he will make every attempt to find a wife from Avraham’s family and not from the Canaanites living in the land.
Eliezer asks Hashem to help him in finding the proper girl. He even devises a challenge that he asks Hashem to use as the litmus test to determine the future matriarch of the Jewish nation.
According to his plan, Eliezer would ask a number of girls for a drink as they drew water from the well for their families. The one that would say, “Not only will I give you a drink, but I will also water your camels,” would be the one to prove herself worthy of marrying Yitzchak.
Using this test, he quickly finds Rivkah, a daughter of Besuel, granddaughter of Avraham’s brother Haran . When Eliezer goes to meet the parents, he tells over the whole story of how he got there and the miracle of finding Rivka so quickly.
Rivka’s father and brother try to kill Eliezer so that they could steal the great wealth that he brought with him to give to the prospective bride. They put poison in Eliezer’s food but an angel miraculously switches the dishes, and Besuel, Rivka’s father, ends up dead instead. Lavan and his mother try to convince Rivka to stay but she declares that she wants to go with Eliezer to meet her future husband.
Rivka catches sight of her husband for the first time as he is returning from praying in the field and she is overwhelmed by his greatness. They soon marry and, as the Torah tells us, “Yitzchok brought her into the tent of his mother, Sarah. He married Rivkah, and she became his wife, and he loved her. Yitzchok was then consoled for the loss of his mother.” (Gen. 24:67) This shows us that the Torah’s view of love is something that comes after marriage, after one makes the ultimate commitment to a partner, not the infatuation people often feel and describe as “love at first sight” or “falling head over heels in love!”
The Torah then mentions some of the genealogy of Avraham, and Yishmael. It also describes the death of Avraham at the ripe old age of 175. He was buried with his wife in the Me’arat Hamachpela.
The Torah concludes the Parsha with a description of Yishmael’s genealogy, indicating that Avraham treated him as a true son, despite the fact that he had a child from his primary wife, Sara. That’s all Folks!
Quote of the Week: A man wrapped up in himself makes a very small bundle. – Benyamin Franklin
Random Fact of the Week: Shakespeare’s works contain first-ever recordings of 2,035 English words, including critical, frugal, excellent, barefaced, assassination, and countless.
Funny Line of the Week: War does not determine who is right, only who is left.
Have an Insouciant Shabbos,
R’ Leiby Burnham