In no way do I mean any irreverence in the thoughts I am about to express. The Omnicomedic One has put up with my sense of humor for a very long time. (In fact, I believe the Almighty created it.) I hope sometimes God laughs with me.
Every morning in these COVID times, my cat Taxi joins in our Zoom minyan. He hears us chatting before the service begins, and he hops over to sit on my lap, having memorized fairly well at which points we will be standing up. He started out as a somewhat-interested tsitsit chaser, but at twelve years old he understands and mostly heeds my admonitions against such pursuits.
Now, Kaddish DeRabbanan is one of my favorite prayers (despite having been shot at while praying it). I like it for several reasons: I absolutely hold reverence for the act of studying, for the ability to study, for having things to study, for all forms of learning and for those who promote the same. I like the prayer because it encompasses the Mourner’s Kaddish within it, thus allowing those in mourning an extra run for the price of studying. I even like the Aramaic, a tongue that seems to me very much placed in the front of the mouth.
One morning, in the middle of that liturgy, I began wondering.
As you may surmise from the photo, our cat is a rather pensive, thought-filled individual. He enjoys the newspaper, especially the puzzles page. He will fit himself onto one’s lap in the perfect position and purr appropriately while letting one know where to scratch his head and crinkle his ears. He will stand for the Kaddish DeRabbanan. He will look a person in the eyes and hold a conversation, give and take, with appropriate vocal inflections. Most often what he is saying is, “I really think that despite the clock it is time for a spot of food.” (He understands only too well that the clock holds undue sway over my decisions.)
First thing in the morning, he awakens me at the appropriate time. (He does this without regard to weekends, though we are working on that by showing that “minyan” begins somewhat later on those days, and does not follow the same routine.) Taxi is very gentle in his awakening: he snuggles up against me under my face and purrs. If I don’t wake up soon enough, he pats my cheek with his paw and inserts his whiskers in my ear. At that point he requests his morning ration of snuggling before I am released to go to the next room.
Later, on the way down the stairs, Taxi walks between my legs to show his appreciation that I am headed ever closer to the kitchen and nearer to tending to his every need. He talks of how he guarded the house all night from invaders who if not for his presence might have found a way through the windows and walls, endangering us all.
I prepare his breakfast before my own. (I’ve told him that although this is a commandment, I would do it anyway.) The whole time I am preparing his food, he butters me up. He artfully rubs his head and body on my legs, wrapping his long tail around my knees, even though in “cooking” his breakfast I am required to walk back and forth in the kitchen. I understand that he is doing that to show affection and encouragement. This ritual always results in my taking longer than it might to prepare the meal, and threatens to dump me on my head.
It is very rare that Taxi is stiff-necked about the food I prepare, though he did get the notion back in the days of the Second Cat that he should only eat the sauce and pumpkin from around his moist food, not the food itself. The moist morsels had been left to the Second Cat, who had bad teeth and appreciated eating the remaining food from Taxi’s bowl. There is no longer a Second Cat, so no one eats the moist food itself, no matter how finely mashed.
Back to the Kaddish. It seems to me that very much of our service liturgy consists of our buttering up the Almighty. We are rubbing on the Ubiquitous Hallowed Legs, so to speak, even as God may be trying to tell us to do otherwise. We have learned somewhere that God likes this rubbing, this speaking of the Holy One with so many adjectives and so many blesseds and even more words about the wide variations of Omnipotence. I don’t know how we have learned this, nor do I know whether it is even correct. But this is what we do, some of us more than once a day.
Let me go a bit further with this inspection. We have been handed the most glorious set of rules for living a good life, a full life, a moral life, for sustaining ourselves and others, and for improving the condition of this world and all in it, and the rest of the universe as well.
We have taken this very seriously, understand that we are both guardians of and adherents to that with which we have been entrusted. But in taking it so much to heart, have we possibly misconstrued the meanings? Have we built our fences around it in such a way that we keep out the truth, possibly in opposition to keeping in the commandments?
And are we emphasizing the wrong points while ignoring the more important?
Could God be frustrated with us at this point, and annoyed that we keep sitting in God’s lap, asking for food, and pooping outside the litter box, work though we may to keep the world free from proverbial mice, when we have been told time and again how we ought to be behaving? Perhaps at this stage of God’s parenthood and our growth it is no longer enough that we say a couple dozen words of glorification and lauding and praise and magnification in each Kaddish DeRabbanan. Perhaps no amount of schmoozing and kissing up is enough when we are not doing enough studying and knowing and acting to justify it, or are not studying the right things, or are not drawing the best conclusions from our studies. Maybe we are not yet fully understanding, and we should have been well beyond that by now.
The love is still there, between us and God. But I think we could do a bit more growing up. Like the cat who hears so often, “Please don’t steal my hair holders and put them into your water dish!” and does recall that sentence vaguely even as he doesn’t heed it, we may have let things get out of hand. Some of us even wave our piety and practice as a banner displaying our goodness, certain that Second Cat will take the fall.
Maybe by now we are expected not to need fences and child locks anymore, we are expected to do what is just and right. Maybe sometimes we are testing God’s abundant patience, all the while thinking we are making God happy.
There is possibly as much evolutionary difference between the cat and the human as between the human and an angel. (You may reject that hypothesis, but it feels right to me.) I sense God expecting something of us in return for what we have received and continue to have available. And it is our job to show the way to others, as we have been entrusted. We should continue to evolve, and educate, and elucidate. It isn’t just for us to follow these rules, it is for all the other cats around. We all share the planet, and in these COVID times that becomes ever more clear.
I am suggesting that we re-examine our expression of love for God, because we just do not seem to be living up to God’s expectations.
Look at it this way, sort of microcosmically. Maybe God wouldn’t mind at all if we didn’t have four sets of dishes, if we cut our sons’ hair at age two, if a speck of whey powder fell into our pareve cracker dough, and if we considered painting a landscape to be Shabbat rest, as long as we are honest and open, as long as we are taking care of the poor, the needy, the sick and bereft, and the planet and all creatures that live on it.
Our love should be as unconditional as a cat’s. And we should keep finding new ways to express it.