A Fable For Our Times

“How do you know that your blood is redder than his, perhaps his blood is redder than yours?”

(Rava in Sanhedrin 74a, Talmud)

by Rabbi Corinne Copnick

I didn’t know yet that the Talmud teaches each and every life has value. I learned it by example when I was eleven years old from an animal, from my pet cat, Buttons. She was a beautiful Persian cat with piercing green eyes and fur so glossy and black it seemed to have purple highlights. Naturally she attracted the attention of some of the neighborhood Toms, and soon we noticed that Buttons seemed heavier around her middle.

Then one evening as I was taking a bath, I heard sounds behind the tile bathroom walls, faint sounds. Mice? No, they seemed to be mewing sounds…behind the wall. Wrapping my towel around me, I rushed to the cupboard just outside our bathroom. Sure enough, the cover to the opening of the wide pipe that ran behind the bathroom wall had been chewed off. I put my ear to the pipe and listened. Yes, those sounds were alive, and, oh, the heated air was warm in there.

With eleven-year-old valor, I reached my hand in as far as I could and touched…wet fur. That is how I lifted out, first one, then two little kittens. But I could still hear a faint mewing. Stretching my arm to the limit, I reached in once more and lifted out a third kitten. Jubilant, I carried them all downstairs to our warm kitchen and settled them comfortably in a basket lined with soft towels. My little sister instantly named them Spic, Span, and Rainbow. Spic was white, Span was black, and Rainbow was multi-colored.

I thought Buttons would be so pleased to see her kittens safe and sound in the basket. But she was not pleased. No, she was frantic as she touched each of them on the nose and paused. And then again, she counted noses. Then she rushed up the stairs to the bathroom closet and squeezed into the warm pipe. She soon emerged with one kitten (Blondie, we called her because she was a strawberry-blonde), and then with another (Tawny, the color of café au lait). She carried them down one by one to the kitchen basket, and when all five of them were settled, she counted their noses with her own nose. ONE-TWO-THREE-FOUR-FIVE. And then again to make sure. That’s how she took her own census. I didn’t know that cats could count, but they do if it concerns their own children. Finally, she settled contentedly into the basket with her furry kittens – like the biblical Joseph’s coat, a magnificent blend of many colors.

That’s how I learned from one of God’s small creatures – a black cat with diverse children, each of whom she loved — that every life counts. As the Torah teaches, and poets have always known, each star, each grain of sand, each human life matters. Everywhere.

And for the precious gift of our lives, we owe it to God and to ourselves to make every minute, every hour count. To use it well for ourselves in the time that we have – something we especially appreciate as we grow older — and to use it well for the rest of the lives that have been created, for humanity and for all of God’s creatures.