photograph of a howling dog
Photo by Sven Hagolani via Getty.

The Writer, the Dog and the Lesson

Empathy is strength of soul.

In his essay on Sir Walter Scott, C.S. Lewis paints a remarkable picture of a man in distress. Scott was in poor health. His wife had died three weeks before. He was under great financial pressure to finish his book. His diary records a “throttling sensation” which impelled him to tears. To make it all worse, he was kept up all night by a howling dog.

Lewis’ point is not about Scott’s distress but about his reaction. In his journal he writes: “Poor cur! I dare say he had his distress, as I have mine.”

It is difficult enough to have sympathy for another when one is doing well. To have it when one’s own circumstances are trying — and when it is a dog keeping you up! — takes genuine goodness and strength of soul. The Shulchan Aruch teaches that even those who depend on public funds must themselves contribute to charity (Yoreh De’ah 248:1). One’s own misfortune is not a reason to neglect the sufferings of others. As Yeats writes to a child, “for the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.” But we are adults and we can understand. And we can help to wipe those tears away.

Rabbi David Wolpe’s musings are shared in My Jewish Learning’s Shabbat newsletter, Recharge, a weekly collection of readings to refresh your soul. Sign up to receive the newsletter.

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