By Rabbi Linda Holtzman, Rabbi of the Tikkun Olam Chavurah

In Genesis, we learn that when God created human beings, one of human’s first tasks was naming the animals. Why was it so important that people give names to animals? God could surely have done this! Giving names to animals was a way for people to show how much they value animals, how strong the connection between people and animals is. All of us who live with an animal companion understand that power. Our animal companions bring us so many gifts: joy, playfulness, support, caring, and, of course, love. Animal companions can enable people to move in the world in ways that they would never have thought possible by sharing their gifts with us.

Every year, during the week following the Torah reading of Adam’s naming the animals, I celebrate a Blessing of the Animals. I love to stop and celebrate all that our animal companions give us. With a group of adults, children, and animals (mostly dogs but a variety of other species), we take some time to focus on our animal companions. We thank them, appreciate them, and wish them blessings for the coming year. We pray for those who are ill and we remember those who are no longer living but whom we have loved. It is a very special time, one that forces us to notice and express our gratitude for beings that are a part of our households and our lives. It is not just a lovely ritual moment; it is a crucial time.

Our lives fly by so quickly and are touched by so many beings. Letting the time go by and not expressing gratefulness for the beings that touch us so deeply is not only thoughtless; it also lets us forget the beauty and strength of our connection with animals. Taking the time to notice and celebrate the animals that share our lives deepens our relationships with those animals and with all other beings on earth. By noticing our dogs or cats or guinea pigs or parakeets, we are reminded to notice all the blessings in our lives. By not taking our animal companions for granted, we stop taking everything in our lives for granted. By remembering how to say thank you to the beings that live with us and give so much to us, we become more fully human, more present in our lives.

In Jewish tradition, we are encouraged to say at least 100 blessings every day. By saying so many blessings, we are forced to notice and appreciate all that we have been blessed with. By adding a ritual of blessing for our animal companions, we are reminded of all that they bless us with. We are following the model of the first people on earth and are taking the time to look at the marvelous diversity and extraordinary beauty of the animals that share our lives. By remembering who they are and by fully acknowledging their name, we are able to know who we are more fully. The ritual of Blessing our Animal Companions is a powerful, deeply significant one that helps us move through the year more deeply aware and more fully conscious of all who touch our lives. I anticipate it every year with great joy.