If you surveyed my friends and family, asking them the first thing that pops into their mind when they hear my name, I’d wager the almost universal answer would be, “Karen? She loves her cat.” Yup, I’m an older lady who lives alone with her cat and spends way too much time doting on the furry, little creature. Of course, Too-Too (the cat), would disagree, arguing that any time not spent doting on him is time wasted. Unless it’s spent feeding him. Humans sometimes think the world revolves around them, but cats know it does.

Numerous cats have lived with me for at least 40 years. I go through the motions of demonstrating the house rules to them. Stay off the counters. Don’t sleep on my pillow. Don’t sample my dinner when I’m not looking. I fool myself that it’s me who’s in charge. Meanwhile, they watch attentively, raising my hopes, then yawn and stretch, saunter away, and proceed to do exactly as they please. Over the years, they’ve taught me much more than I’ve ever taught them, including life lessons about Judaism, and I’d like to share some of those lessons here.

1. Speech Is What Separates Us From the Animal Kingdom

Too-Too purrs when I pet him and meows when he’s bored or hungry. He’s never hissed at me, so I know I’ve never made him angry. When he’s really happy with me, he’ll roll on his back and let me scratch his tummy. And he can wrap me around his little cat finger with an adorable pose.

But he will never communicate, learn, and imagine like I can, because he doesn’t have the gift of speech that G‑d gave only to humans. He can make me laugh when he stalks and pounces on a stray sock, he can entertain me when he jousts with a stray paper clip, but he can’t tell a joke. He can evoke memories of my previous cats, but he can’t share a memory of his own. He can look longingly at the first robin of springtime outside my window, but he can’t recite Shehecheyanu, thanking G‑d for the gift of a new season. Words are infinitely precious. Words matter. Choose them carefully, and cherish them as the gifts they are.

2. Don’t Lose Sleep Worrying

Too-Too can sleep anytime and anywhere. On my lap, on the window sill, on the bed, or (his favorite) in a pile of warm towels fresh from the dryer. One time, he actually climbed inside the warm dryer and curled up for a nap. Fortunately, I saw him before I closed the door! He never tosses and turns, worrying about tomorrow. He is completely dependent on me for food, water, and every necessity. He knows this, and “asks” me to provide for him by waking me at 5 a.m. and directing me to his food dish.

Too-Too in the dryer.
Too-Too in the dryer.

Our lives are also wholly dependent on Someone bigger and stronger. All our necessities are given to us by G‑d. And just like my cat, we should ask for what we need, through our prayers, and not lose sleep worrying, because as surely as I know what’s best for Too-Too, G‑d knows what’s best for me.

3. Don’t Judge People by Their Appearance

Too-Too doesn’t care if I’m wearing the latest fashions. He’ll shed his fur on designer duds and tattered pajamas with equal abandon. If I gain five pounds, he doesn’t notice (after all these months at home during COVID, that’s become one of his most endearing qualities). He responds to gentle words, gentle hands, and a welcoming attitude. He can sense friendliness and it has nothing to do with how a person looks.

It’s human to form first impressions based on looks when meeting someone. But like my cat, we have to push beyond the superficial.

4. You Don’t Need a Lot of Stuff to Be Happy

All cat owners can relate to this lesson. I can come home with a bag full of new cat toys, take them out of the bag, and set the bag aside. Too-Too ignores the toys and grabs the bag. The bag is the toy! He isn’t a status snob. He doesn’t need the latest cat toy to boost his self-esteem. He’s not competing with the cat upstairs to see who has the most stuff. He has fun with whatever’s available.

Contentment comes from enjoying what you have, not from craving what you don’t.

5. Make Every Day Great

Too-Too grooms himself constantly. Before a nap. After a nap. Sometimes during a nap. Before eating. After eating. He washes himself more often and more thoroughly than an ICU nurse during the pandemic. He never has an off day. He never takes a morning off. He never lets himself go. He gets up every morning, grooms himself to perfection, and faces each day looking his best.

Shouldn’t we do the same? What if today is the day Moshiach comes? When he does, I don’t want to have to run home first to take a shower and iron a blouse. Neither do I want to worry about whether I had acted appropriately that day. I want to be ready and at my best every single day!