You just can’t make this stuff up. It was an evening shiva minyan in someone’s home. The family had had a difficult loss, and it was a crowded house, filled with well wishers, friends, folks hoping to offer some small sense of comfort to a grieving family. I arrived to conduct the minyan, and within a few minutes things were underway. We davened in the living room area, and there were so many people that almost everyone was standing.
As I was leading the service I saw something in my peripheral vision moving through the crowd, down at the floor level. Without even thinking about it I assumed it was a dog. This is not an uncommon creature to find walking around in a shiva house – if the dog behaves, and is comfortable with people in the house, let him or her make their way about, meeting and greeting as only dogs can. (And by the way, for a future post, dogs do bring great comfort to families and to individuals during difficult times.)
But in the back of my mind I somehow knew things were not as they seemed. Maybe it was the way the animal moved, or the brief glimpse I had caught of its fur. As it came towards me I looked down, and there at my feet was a small pig, probably about 15 pounds or so, white with a few brown spots, waving its head back and forth and snuffling with its snout. It seemed perfectly at ease, and curious as well, happy to be ‘in the mix’ and to have a new experience to occupy its attention. It gave me a wry look, as if to say ‘get the service started, rabbi!’ and then it shuffled away into the crowd.
After the minyan the pig’s owner approached me, holding the animal which was comfortably snuggled in her arms. ‘I hope he didn’t startle you,’ she said. Well, what rabbi worth his or her salt would admit to being startled by a pig? But what was I going to say? ‘Oh no, I’ve seen plenty of pigs in shiva houses?’ There was only one proper response, and it came to me in a sudden flash of insight. ‘He’s kinda’ cute,’ I said. I carefully but politely patted the pig on the head. He looked at me out of one eye and I wondered what he was thinking. Probably this: how odd to have a rabbi in my home.