Written by Benyamin Cohen - (YA '93)
It was fourteen years ago this week that I adopted my first puppy. I had grown up deathly afraid of dogs (I’m not sure why), but as I got older I knew it was an irrational fear. So I slowly started hanging around dogs more and even dog-sat for a friend. I was finally ready to make the leap.
I went to the Atlanta Humane Society and picked out a four-month-old Chow-Retriever mix with a sweet disposition. I took him home and didn’t quite know what to do with him. For the first hour, we just sat there staring at each other, both new to this situation.
As puppies go, he was remarkably well-adjusted. He had no interest in chewing on the furniture and was, for the most part, already house trained. He instantly took to just hanging out on the couch with me and watching TV.
However, he was a little skittish in those early days. When he got scared – like when he heard loud thunder – he would go running into his crate. It was a safe zone for him and he knew nothing bad would happen to him in there. Eventually, he started voluntarily spending time in his crate just to chill out.
Believe it or not, the puppy’s behavior reminded me of something from this week’s Torah portion.
Among other things, this week's Torah portion of Toldot discusses the way in which Jacob and Esau grew up. There was the bookish Jacob (for some reason, I always pictured him playing chess) and there was the athletic Esau, out for a hunt.
The Torah states, in Genesis 25:27, that Jacob was a man of his tent, opting to stay in his comfort zone and not go out into the world. For a moment there, it reminded me of my dog’s behavior in those early days. Complacent to just remain in his crate, even when there were other things he could be doing. As we all know, Jacob eventually left his tent, his comfort zone, and went on to become the father of the Jewish people.
In our daily lives, the path of least resistance will always lead us to stay in our own comfort zones. Sure, that can mean being somewhat of a homebody (a group of which I am a charter member). But it can also be taken more metaphorically: choosing to lead an easy existence instead of opting to enter the harsh realities of the real world. Going down the simple paths, the ones that don't challenge us much, is not necessarily the most productive way to go through life.
Like Jacob in this week’s Torah portion, we have to leave the nest, spread our wings, and grow. We don't want to be the same people today as we will be 25 years from now. Jewish philosophy teaches us not be religiously stagnant, comparing our spiritual journey to climbing a ladder. The sages teach us that if we are not moving forward, then we are not moving at all.
After a short while, my puppy began venturing more and more out of his little area, slowly realizing that there is a whole world out there waiting for him. If only we could all learn that so quickly.
Benyamin Cohen graduated the Hebrew Academy of Atlanta (AJA Lower School) in 1988 and Yeshiva High School of Atlanta (AJA Upper School) in 1993. While in high school, he was the editor of the student newspaper. That experience led him to create Torah from Dixie (a newsletter and book about the weekly Bible portion), Jewsweek (one of the first online Jewish magazines) and to write “My Jesus Year,” a book about his experience visiting 52 churches. He is now a journalist and resides in Morgantown, West Virginia with his wife Elizabeth and two dogs.