By Rabbi Dovid Markel
What happens to my dog when it dies? Does it go to Heaven?
Here are some thoughts on the subject based on my understanding of the subject in the literature of Chabad Chassidus.
There are two essential points that are pertinent to the question:
1) Firstly, all things have a soul, and a spark of G-dliness that enlivens them, that being the case, when any soul leaves its body, it returns to its source to be included in G-dliness. As conveyed in Perek Shira, each animal, including dogs say praise to G-d. Incidentally, dogs say the verse (Tehillim 95:6) “Come, let us prostrate ourselves and bow; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker.” Surely, the soul “of dog” continues to express that praise when it returns to its source.
Incidentally, dogs say the verse (Tehillim 95:6) “Come, let us prostrate ourselves and bow; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker.” Surely, the soul “of dog” continues to express that praise when it returns to its source.
2) the second more important point in answering this question is does your dog exist at all, or does only the general entity of dog exist. The simple opinion of chassidus and general Jewish thought on this matter is that on the ultimate level, your dog does but only the concept of dog.
This means to say in the language of philosophy, that animals are “kayam bmin-extant as a species” and humans are “kayam b’ish-individually extant.” Meaning, animals exist as a species and each human as a specific entity.
What is unique about humankind, is the individuality of each separate human being. We don’t merely exist as a mass of humanity but are each different and unique.
For example, when a zoologist wishes to study a certain animal, he need not study each specific animal, but a general sampling of the group can give him a pretty good picture of the nature of that animal.
Case in point: A person can go to a zoo, see a monkey, chimpanzee, elephant or baboon and get a pretty good picture of how this animal acts today, and pretty much how they have probably acted since the beginning of time. Not so with the human; the idea of placing a human in a zoo to get an idea of how humans as a species act, is absurd – for each human is particular and different.
In the language of chassidus, this is connected to its name. As conveyed in chassidus, the name of something is its G-dly life force. Now, we call it animals by names, but that is primarily arbitrary, as animals don’t have names on an essential level.
They are “kayam b’min-extant as a species” G-d enlivens “כלב” not “Freddy the dog.” Man, on the other hand, is unique in his own name. Each individual human being is its own entity in life and in death, having its own unique soul, therefore you can say “so-and-so went to heaven,” with an animal on the other hand, while it surely returns to its life force of the G-dly source of dog in heaven that constantly stands in a state of praise of G-d, it ceases to exist as a particular dog, now it is only “dog,” not “Freddy the dog.”
What this means is that in general there is one dog soul and character that is split into many bodies, while humankind exists as its own unique entity and therefore exists in life and in death with its own name and own unique place in heaven.
What remains to be understood though, is that being the case, that there is only “one general dog” that is kayam b’min-extant as a species, where do the specific dog personalities come from? If they are all the same soul, shouldn’t they be the same?
The basic answer to this question is predicated on what makes a person different than his fellow, to begin with.
Chabad chassidus discusses this using the example of human intelligence. What makes a person smart, or not smart, or have their mannerisms of thought, their soul or their brain?
Chassidus explains that it’s a bit of both that affects the individual’s intelligence. In the language of chassidus, a person can have great “ohr-light” but if the “kli-vessel” is not a proper receptacle it won’t be expressed. Similarly, the other way around, if a person has a great physical brain, he might be able to do a lot with it, even if his soul itself doesn’t have such a great capacity.
Essentially then, what makes up a person’s personality is both his body, (kli) and his soul (ohr). Being that with man, he is different in both body and soul, he is unique on both levels.
However, while Freddy the dog might have a different personality than Alfred the dog, this is a difference in body that creates their personality to express itself differently. As such, their “name” is arbitrary to their body, but when the body dissipates, the specific identity ceases to be as it is incorporated in the general identity.
So, to answer the question, “do dogs go to heaven,” the essential answer is that dog goes to heaven and becomes included in its G-dly source, but the specific dog essentially ceases to be.