April 18, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

I Lost My Best Friend on Purim

Four years ago, I lost my best friend on Purim. It was a very sad day – he had four seizures and we had to rush him to the hospital where we learned he had a brain tumor and there was no hope.

My friend had come to live with us from South Africa four years earlier. We weren’t sure what religion he was, but he was fascinated with Judaism. He also couldn’t speak, but said a lot with his eyes and his actions. When I was learning on the phone with my chavrusa, if he didn’t like what we were saying he made a ruckus. At Shabbos, he was right next to me.

And at night, he wouldn’t go to sleep until we read the Shema together.

That night that he died, I lay on the floor next to him and recited: Ribono shel olam, hareini mocheil l’chol mi shehichis v’hiknit oti, o shechata k’negdi, bein b’gufi bein b’mamoni… He lifted his head and gave me a kiss and that was the last we would see of Simba.

I guess I should tell you now that my friend was a 4 year-old, 210 lb South African Boerboel, and I really believe he had a Jewish neshama. Maybe he was a gilgul – the soul of a dead person that passes into another living body to assume a new existence and atone for past sins. The more I think back about his escapades, I truly believe he was trying to atone for those sins, whatever they were. Maybe he didn’t keep Shabbos; maybe he didn’t observe Pesach; maybe he didn’t wear teffilin; or maybe his life struggles precluded him from keeping the Mitzvos.

Every night at bed time he would jump on our bed (yes he and his 145 pound sister Pumpkin both slept with my wife Phyllis and me) and we would do the bedtime Shema together. He would lay his head on my shoulder while I read the Shema out loud. When I was finished he would give me a kiss and go to sleep, curled up next to me or by my feet.

Our protector. We got Simba at 7 weeks old and 20 pounds. Over the next 4 years he grew and grew and grew until he was 210 pounds. He was in charge and did he protect his family! One day a friend, who was in our house often, came over with some knives that I was going to sharpen for him. Simba sees him, backs me up against a wall and starts growling at Andy.

“What’s the matter Simba?” asks Andy.

“Put the knives down,” I say.

He puts down the knives and Simba releases, me and says hello to Andy.

And he loved kids. As kids would walk by our back yard he and his sister would rush to the fence so they could interact with the kids. One little girl about 5 years old would come over to our house every day, and go to the closet where we kept the dog treats. She would take out some treats and go out in the yard with both dogs. Then she would hold the treat in one hand and tell them to sit, which they would do, after which she gave them each a treat.

Shabbos and Learning. At our Shabbos meals, he would sit by me at the head of the table and patiently wait while I finished Kiddush. Then we would all go to the kitchen to wash, and then come back to the dining room where he would wait until we did hamotzi (I couldn’t get him to wash). As I passed out the challah he waited his turn. And if by an outside chance we dared have challah that was not made by Phyllis, he would not eat it. But who can blame him – she is the world’s best chef.

We have a Shabbos alarm clock – the kind shaped like a triangle with a cover that you can cover controls for Shabbos. Simba had a habit of chewing them – three of them. After he died, I got to thinking that he didn’t like the idea that we were going to nap on Shabbos – he was always trying to keep me up. Looking back, he probably ate the clocks so we wouldn’t nap and could stay up and learn.

Then there was Wednesday when I would learn on the phone with Shlomo, with whom I had been learning for 10 years. I would have the phone on speaker and Simba would sit right next to me as we were learning. One day as Shlomo was saying something about what we were learning, Simba started barking very loudly. I couldn’t calm him down. Finally I said to Shlomo that I believe he doesn’t agree with what you just said. After looking again, Shlomo changed his comments, and Simba quieted down. You couldn’t put anything over on him; if he thought your learning Torah was wrong he let you know.

Was he religious? I should have recognized early in his life that he was special. Phyllis bought me a beautiful set of tefillin. I came home one day and he had opened up my tefillin bag and had taken out the shel yad and unraveled the straps. Of course I quickly took them away from him, but looking back, I really think he was trying to put them on. There was no damage to the tefillin – he just unraveled the straps.

Then there was the first Pesach where we switched his food to grain-free Pesach-compliant. He went to his bowl, sniffed about and then sat and looked up at me with those questioning eyes. I said “It’s Pesach and we can’t have chametz in the house.” He brightened up and dug in for his meal.

He did not like me to take off his collar. I never saw any dog get so irritated when we did so. His eyes would get really big, and he would not leave my side until I put it back on. Thinking about it lately, I wonder if in his prior life he was marked, maybe with a star, and if he didn’t have that on he could get shot.

His illness. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor and we had them operate to remove it. Unfortunately, they discovered that he had lymphoma, and rather than have him suffer with chemotherapy, we decided to keep him as long as we could, until that difficult decision on Purim to put him down.

At least I was able to say the bedtime Shema with him for the last time. Our baby was gone. No doubt he went up to Shamayim, keeping a spot warm for when I come there to be with him again.

There is no doubt in my mind that Simba was a special dog with a Jewish neshama – a gilgul who made up for something he missed in his prior life. I am just glad we were able to help him, as he helped me. We miss you big guy, and will see you again.

By George Matyjewicz

George & Phyllis Matyjewicz live in the Passaic/Clifton, NJ, community with their South African Boerboels Mufasa, Sarafina and Sarabi. Sadly, Pumpkin died in December.

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