My cat reminded me this morning that today is International Cat Day. While purring and rubbing itself against my legs it did not miss the moment I poured milk on my cereal and turned my back to the table. After all one has to celebrate in a way or another.
Sources say that the International Fund for Animal Welfare inaugurated the holiday in 2002.I am not able to find anything about it on the IFAW website.
It does not matter how the holiday came about,
– maybe it was instituted by the cat lobby – ,
it is a great way to create awareness about our feline friends and learn from them.
If I asked you to tell me, out of the blue, where cats appear in Jewish tradition, you would probably shake your head and say, “What? Cats? Nowhere!”
Throughout history simple house and barn cats are revered as hunters, seers and teachers. Big wild cats evoke the King of King of Kings. Cats are known to be smart, playful, curious, independent, sleepy, goofy and agile (for example they always land on their feet ).
Cats can be fictional characters such as Garfield, Felix or Pusheen.
But are they mentioned in Jewish traditions or Jewish litterature?
For one, there is a cat in the Chad Gadya poem.
Every year, during the Passover Seder, we celebrate the cat whose bold hunt set history in motion.
… the cat that ate the goat that my father bought for two zuzim …
The cat who teaches about the persecution of Jews, the folly of revenge, or the omnipotence of God – the interpretation is up to you.
Then the Talmud too references the cat by looking at its character traits.
Rabbi Yochanan said:
“If the Torah had not been given, we could have learned modesty from the cat.”
Rabbi Yochanan praises the cat for its delicate habits of eliminating waste, but I myself learn modesty from the cat’s thoughtfulness. From its hiding place, a cat can observe a situation in careful detail, before finally leaping out to make a bold, intelligent and successful move.
Perek Shirah is an ancient Jewish text in which cats teach the world humility by embodying a prophetic verse.
“The cat says, ‘If you rise up like a vulture, and place your nest among the stars, from there I shall bring you down.’ ”
No one, no matter how high or powerful, can escape the claws of a determined cat. Often, the vulture is a metaphor for imperial power.
Through the cat, God teaches that even the most militarized empire is vulnerable to rebellion and decay.
Big wild cats express divine power.
In the Tanak lions appear in Ezekiel’s vision of the heavenly beings attending God’s Presence. The Lion is the symbol of the tribe of Judah, lineage of King David. Members of the royal courts describe their kings as lions. Honoring a lion honors a king; honoring a king honors God.
To sum it up, cats can teach us never to attack without fully assessing the potential damage and to temper our political goals with humility. They can remind us that every creature has value in and for itself; that using any animal as a tool is intrinsically wrong; and that honoring animals honors God.
Elul is the month of self-reflection proceeding the High Holidays and it will start the third week of August.
Let the cat lead us into the month of Elul.
- Have we used others to our advantage?
- Have we spoken badly of someone?
- Have proceeded without due diligence?
- Have we taken financial profit with partial truth?
Where could we have benefited from modesty and humility, or from ethically assessing a situation before acting?