I want to thank Rabbi Tirzah Firestone for trekking down the Boulder turnpike for the last three months to share with us her exquisite style of teaching. We were on her loom, creating together a quilt of the garment of light that the Zohar texts illuminate for us. Her guiding hands and melodic voice of interpretation allowed each of us to become weavers of radiance, making Torah a spiritual journey.
Reb Tirzah asked us this past Tuesday evening to dedicate our learning that evening for someone who has died or is ill. People called out names and they were written down for us all to see and be mindful of. I dedicated my learning that night to Barley, her soul having departed this world the evening before.
My daughters, Eva and Isabel, went to visit their friend Barley the dog and reported back that Bar-Bar was sick. Barley’s soul was released later that evening from her cancer ridden and failing body. We mourned her death in class the next day and Eva and Isabel came to sit with Karen and her sister Michele and the minyan of women who are her classmates.
Barley is the first dog Eva and Isabel met and shared love. On moving into our new neighborhood we have met the dogs: Berklie, Bailey, Buddy, Boss, Beasley, Buddah, Baja and Basil. That was the order of the dogs we met. Then we met Kiddo and Simcha and the realization that not every dog’s name in the neighborhood begins with a B.
The Hebrew word for dog is Kelev (in Hebrew it is Kaf-Lamed Bet), the same letters and therefore the same name as Caleb (in Hebrew Calev). Caleb was a leader in the generation of Moses—he was the spy who came back from touring the land of Canaan and opposed the 10 spies who said that the inhabitants of the land were too formidable. Caleb’s faith and loyalty was dogged.
The name Caleb and for a dog Kelev (the letter Kaf is a hard “c”) includes the Hebrew word for heart (Lev). Therefore the Kabblaists teach that the dog is “of the heart.” This teaching came to life many years ago when I read of a boy who died in Colorado Springs and his parents decided to donate his heart for transplant. It turned out that the heart was put on ice for a short journey. The transplant team exited the hospital on the west and entered back on the east to deliver the heart to a boy on the other side of the same hospital. Donors are not typically privy to who the recipient is of the donated organ—in this circumstance the mother of the boy who donated the heart put one and one together. What she did not realize though was the meaning of her own son’s name—his name was Caleb.
We are all weavers, humans and dogs alike. What we weave, states the Zohar, is a garment whose “threads” are our deeds. This is the radiant garment that envelops the soul on its transition from this physical existence. Reb Tirzah asked us to close our eyes and reflect on an image that came up as we finished our learning. I imagined Barley’s soul. I imagined that knowing that her days were limited she had taken on the cancers of the children she loved so that they might heal faster. Amber was the color of her garment with threads unraveling back to the thousands of children’s (and adult) hearts she touched.