I’m not really a cat lover. I do have a soft spot for animals but until we took in Reggie eight years ago, I would have never thought I would adopt a cat. I grew up with a dog and after I was married we looked after a variety of living creatures; birds, fish, hamsters, dogs and even a rabbit (against my better judgment). Then one day, I saw an ad from a friend who was trying to find homes for a litter of kittens that had been abandoned by the garbage bin. After a couple of weeks, her plea to rescue these fluffy felines finally got to me. I decided to bring home a live Chanukah gift for our kids. In fact, Reggie chose us rather than the other way around as he would not let us leave without him.
Since learning over the years, it seems that having a pet is really not so simple in terms of Jewish law, purity and holiness. Many owners are not aware of the numerous problems that can arise with these furry mammals, but that is a whole different discussion.
Reggie is an indoor-outdoor cat. He enjoys the benefits of life in the warmth of our home including regular meals, yet he is free to run in the outdoors to his little heart’s content. He has it pretty good. By contrast, our neighborhood is overrun with street cats. They mostly live out of the garbage bins and literally fend for themselves. Three brothers recently found a nice little hideout in the entrance of our apartment. When they aren’t out searching for food, they can be found snuggling up together or playing. Despite their hard lives, these cats seem happy.
Reggie knows he will be fed and doesn’t worry where his next meal is coming from. When he is hungry, he comes in and there is food and water waiting for him. If, for some reason, the bowls are empty, a few meows or a different method of grabbing my attention is all that is needed to have them refilled. If cats possessed human qualities, it would seem that Reggie should have much stronger emuna than all those street cats. After all, he trusts in us, his guardians, to ensure he has all he needs met. He never does without. He knows there is nothing to worry about and for him, life is good.
Upon deeper examination, though, it is really the homeless variety that has a much higher level of emuna. Despite their difficulties in life, they forge on daily in their struggle for survival. They are always scavenging for food and they somehow manage to find their sustenance, yet at the end of the day, they are happy and content.
Although cats are selfish by nature, whenever we occasionally to throw a few scraps their way (yes, we’re guilty) they are so thankful, they purr with gratitude. Reggie, on the other hand, takes it all for granted. I know he appreciates it in his own animal way, but the trio outside really makes me feel like they are grateful for anything they receive.
This is something we should be striving for as well. By being complacent and assuming it is all coming to us, we are not showing HaShem our gratitude. He doesn’t have to give us anything and we shouldn’t be presumptuous about all our blessings. We could very well be like the street cats, down and out, not knowing where our next meal is coming from or how we are going to pay our rent or mortgage. We must constantly pray for even the most basic mercies such as having a roof over our heads. With emuna, when we realize that it is all for the best, the Master of the World will provide for us.
Every living creature has some unique qualities we can learn from. The Gemara in Eruvin (43a-line 46) says that we learn tzniut (modesty) from a cat. A cat is very private in its personal hygiene among other things.
Perek Shira also tells of the wisdom we can gain through G-d’s creations. Unlike dogs, cats don’t try to please others and are persistent in their goals. The cat says, in Psalm 18:38, “I will pursue my enemies and overtake them, and will not turn back until they are destroyed.” While this probably refers to a cat hunting a mouse for dinner, we can apply it to standing up for what we believe in or resolving to defeat our adversaries. Yet don’t be fooled into assuming that our successes come about through our own might.
For the cat also observes, “If you raise up to place your nest among the stars like an eagle, from there I shall bring you down, says G-d (Ovadia 1:4). If we are too haughty, HaShem can surely put us in our place. Physically and spiritually, it is only through His guiding hand that we can soar to any heights at all.
In these days of turmoil, when our enemies seek to destroy us and we have no one to turn to but our Father in Heaven, we must pray that our leaders take heed of the lessons of the cat as well. We must firm in our resolve to defend our right to exist in freedom and holiness in the Land HaShem promised us. But only if we act with the modesty and integrity fit for the children of the King, will we merit G-d’s Divine protection.
“Blessed is the man who trusts in HaShem, then HaShem will be his security. I was young and also have aged, and I have not seen a righteous man forsaken with his children begging for bread. HaShem will give might to His people. HaShem will bless his people with peace”. (from Grace After Meals; Artscroll).
Ken Yehi Ratzon – May it be G-d’s Will!