Balak (Numbers 22:2-25:9)

Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben, Ph.D.

I had a great Father’s Day this year. First, my daughter Gable took me out to brunch at her favorite restaurant near where she lives in Venice, California. It was a busy, bustling place mostly filled with other fathers and their children, and she was right – the food was great, the waitress was funny and engaging, and I loved schmoozing with some of the little kids who were out with their fathers to celebrate as well.

Then we drove over to Abbot Kinney Boulevard, one of the most interesting and eclectic streets in Los Angeles, and spent the next couple of hours strolling along the avenue. We walked in and out of stores, visited an art and photo gallery, and talked about her work and life and the challenges she is facing in devoting as much time as she can to rescuing animals, especially dogs from the streets of L.A.

Gable is a rescuer and always has been. She rescues people who are in need and she rescues animals. She has always been the kind of person who slams on the breaks of her car if she sees a stray animal (even on the freeway if need be), figures out how to catch it, puts it in her car and takes it home until she can find its owner and return it to its home.

These days she has opened her heart, her finances, an enormous amount of her time, and even her home to rescue animals from the streets. She nurses them back to full health and then does her best to find both temporary foster homes and then permanent, loving homes to keep them from the fate of animal shelters that might ultimately put them to sleep if no one comes forward to adopt them.

She can’t help it, even though her home sometimes resembles a kennel for a while, it is just her nature to be driven by compassion for every living thing that is in need and to act on that compassion. She has a huge heart and can’t stand to see the animals suffering. For a while this year she was even on a nightly hunt for stray cats that were living in an abandoned apartment complex because she learned that the owners planned to spray the entire complex with poison to clean out any vermin infestations. She knew that it would make the poor, unsuspecting cats sick or cause them to die if someone didn’t rescue them first, so she enlisted the help of friends and strangers and spent night after night chasing them down and rounding them up until she had saved them all from a potential deadly fate.

I grew up my whole life with cats and dogs from the time I was a small child. I’ve had Cocker Spaniels, Springer Spaniels, run-of-the-mill mutts and pure-bred German Shepherds, and I loved them all and couldn’t imagine what life would have been like without them. We had several cats, one of whom (so gray we named him “Sooty”) ran away for an entire year and then suddenly showed up again at our front door. I remember as a child imagining all the adventures Sooty must have had, the places he had gone, the other animals he had befriended during his year on the road, and wishing more than ever that our pets could talk to us and tell us about their lives.

While Gable was growing up she always had animals at home as well, both dogs and cats. As an only child, in many ways they were her friends and companions whenever life might have gotten lonely or challenging. I remember how devastated I was several years ago when we had to put our last cat to sleep because he had cancer and was suffering and there was nothing we could do to ease his pain or cure his disease. It was such an emotionally painful and draining experience that I decided no more pets for me, because I simply couldn’t deal with the separation and loss that I knew were part of the package of having a pet.

That’s why I am really in awe of Gable and her ability to embrace all of these animals, regardless of how difficult and challenging it might be. She simply refuses to give up or let them go, or turn away from helping them in any way that she can. Father’s Day was another reminder for me of how proud I am of her character and compassion and how much I admire her commitment to rescuing them.

As I came away from such a lovely day of sharing my daughter’s life and listening to her talk about the things that really matter to her, I was reminded of something from this week’s Torah portion. It’s one of the most famous phrases in the entire Torah and it has been passed down for more than 3,000 years as the first words of blessing given to the Jewish people by a non-Jewish prophet who looked out from the mountain top over the tents of the community and saw in them families who embraced each other and parents who taught the values of community, caring and compassion to their children. The prophet felt compelled to say, “Ma tovu ohaleha Yaakov, mishkenoteha Yisrael,” “How beautiful are your tents O Jacob your dwelling places O Israel.”

Today, in every synagogue in the world, when we enter the sanctuary to begin our services, these are the very words we echo from that prophet of old. We use these words to remind us how important it is to create loving communities of caring, and we celebrate the values that, for all these centuries, have challenged us to be a holy people. That is how I see my daughter and that was the best gift that I received this Father’s Day of 2013.

(Check out www.rebreuben.com, www.becomingjewishbook.com and www.interfaithrabbi.com for more commentaries, articles and books by Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben).