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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Dogfood Parable

The other day, I strapped my daughter into her stroller and went for a walk with the family dog, Pilpel.

Pilpel, being a fairly obedient dog (bli ayin hara!), is generally allowed to wander around without a leash on, as we live in a sparsely populated area just next to an expanse of hiking ground which includes the region commonly accepted to be the site of Jacob's biblical dream of angels going up and down a ladder (for more, see the Torah).

After our jaunt, I let Pilpel, who is an outside dog, come into the house for a leisurely sniff around. She did the requisite investigating, then plopped down on the living room floor while the baby slept in her stroller just outside the front door. After some time, I decided it was time for Pilpel to go back out, and for me to get along with my day.

"Pilpel, boi!", I called. Nothing. Okay - that's normal. My obedient dog isn't a total idiot - though she loves being outside and shuns being shut up in the house, a few extra minutes to beg for tummy scratching isn't beyond her. I let her stay for 5 more minutes. Then again, I called her out - again, she just sat there panting and grinning. I knew I would have to appeal to more than her sense of obligation.

So I pulled out a can of Simba, a pretty delish looking canned dog food that my neighbor scored for us while doing some electrical work (I believe at the home of former pet owners). I popped the top, and let her savor the aroma of beef and lamb chunks. A glint flashed in her eye, and she snapped to my side like a veteran of the NYPD canine unit. I poured her food in her bowl, she looked at me with awe and reverence, I tied her up, and she enjoyed her prize. "Sucker," I thought.

Which made me think more.

This was not the first time Pilpel had pulled the "what, I don't hear you, what? You want me to come outside to do what now? Yeah um - hey, what's that over there?" stunt. Sometimes she lollygags on the living room floor, I take some dry dog food (you know, the kind that comes in a big bag), pour it into her bowl outside, and then come back in, only to find that she has not been sufficiently enticed. I usually have to grab her collar and heave, at which point she lets me drag her a few feet by the head before succumbing to the pressure to go out.

But Simba - she cannot resist it. After all, she's just a dog, and her stomach can overpower her.

As I surveyed my beautiful mountaintop, which is embroiled in a Peace Now-invented court case which threatens to divide a significant portion of the mountain from the Jewish People, I started to think about how much people can be coarse and animalistic like dogs. In this world in which good and evil, right and wrong are always waging war, some of us are content to maintain our choice, our freedom, and eat simply when we decide we're hungry. Others of us are willing to be chained up at the first display of the good life, and to devour it all as quickly as possible.

I started to think about Israel, in which there are those who live so simply, even poorly, but do so with dignity and self-possession, committed to a lifestyle and values which are more to them than the provisions of this world. Then there are others who will leap to attention and enslave themselves to forces which seek to control and domineer them, bowing and scraping to achieve wealth or honor above that which is "ordinary fare".

Likewise, there are powerful entities which are able and eager to wave carrots (or in our case, cans of Simba), promising a sumptuous, decadent life - and all you have to do is surrender this small bit of self in order to enjoy it.

I know a man who reports any and all Jewish development in Samaria to the government, so it can thwart Jewish expansion in lands it hopes to one day form into another Arab state in the Middle East. When asked how he can bear to spend his day snitching, making lists of dog houses, tool sheds, and spare rooms built to shelter the latest addition to the family, he says "it's my job, it's how I make a living."

He is not proud to be a part of this despicable project. But he is also not ashamed. He has no feeling about it at all, because his feelings have been purchased away. He drives a nice car and lives in a nice home. He smiles when I speak to him, as if he is my friend. He doesn't mind tightening a noose around my neck because he already wears a choke collar around his.

I'm not sure this parable comes with any solutions. Perhaps a dog is always a dog and a person always a person. But I think that those of us who would live unchained to the whims of others might have to be content to always be just a little hungry (or to be sustained by that which is very nourishing but very simple). Not to say that the occasional Simba won't float our way as well, of course. But in the pursuit of a lifestyle, we all make choices - who and what will we care about or follow? What do we want from this life? Will we follow our stomachs or our hearts?

"Pnei hador k'pnai hakelev" - In the time of the coming of the Messiah, the face of the generation will be like the face of the dog. All dogs have a master - which one will we follow?

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  • At 10:22 AM , Blogger yitz.. said...

    i really appreciated the parable. well put.

  • At 7:48 PM , Anonymous Ellen said...

    Hi, Malka,

    Well, you sure know the way to an American heart: "puppy."

    Your point is well-taken, and also reminds me of an end-of-days prophecy that "this generation will have the face of a dog," and I've been trying to figure out what that means.
    Overall, you are one of my favorite writers. You somehow tolerate all kinds of people's idiocy in order not to sound strident, which means people listen longer. So, keep up the good work. BTW, is that well-fed beastie at the beginning of the article Pilpel herself?

  • At 10:25 AM , Anonymous Dan in Jerusalem said...

    your acquaintance from Ofra, who reports settlement activity sounds like Yertle the Turtle, climbing on the backs of his neighbors.

  • At 2:16 AM , Anonymous Lily said...

    this is Pilpel? Overweight or just the nature of the beast??

  • At 5:53 PM , Blogger kris11 said...

    Is that a picture of your dog? If so, you belong in jail for animal cruelty. That dog is morbidly obese! You know the physical pain obese people endure, so why would you put your pet through that? I am so thuroughly disgusted. You should be ashamed of yourself!

  • At 10:41 AM , Blogger Yishai said...

    The picture in this post was taken off the internet. Our dog "Plipel" is a healthy beauty. Kris11, why don't you reserve judgement until you know the facts.


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