Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Its nearly all over

Well, one kitten died this morning. I don't think the other one is going to last much longer. (In fact since I started writing this post the second one has shuffled of its mortal coil also - at about 10:00 last night). I'm not sure if it was just too cold for them (even with the hot water bottle and blankets) or whether i fed them wrong, or whether they missed their mother, or whether they were just not meant to live. They started giving up in the middle of the night. They didn't really want to eat, and were just mewing pathetically. They also started to feel very cold, and even though I tried to warm them I think it was too little too late.

Even though we knew from the beginning that this would probably be the ending it still a bit sad. Why should I care, or anyone (yes, even you reading this)? Surely G-d has His plans, and this was supposed to be this way.

I'm reminded of the end of Sefer Yonah. When the gourd dies and Yonah is sad, G-d says to him, "You took pity on the gourd for whihch you did not labour, nor did you make it grow. It lived one night and perished after one night. Should i not take pity on Ninveh that great city, in which there are more than a 100,000 people who do not know their right hand form their left and many animals as well"

I know that they are vermin, but if G-d takes pity on even the many animals of Ninveh, should we not at least feel a sense of pity, even if it may be daft to act on it?

Also, as a mussar message for myself - if I am prepared to take pity on a tiny kitten, should i not also have pity on myself. By that I mean, if I am prepared to go without sleep for the sake of something that will die, should I not be prepared to go without sleep for life? When it comes to learning Torah I sometimes feel as though I am too exhausted to make it to my chevruta, or to open a sefer on my own. If it was a dying kitten wouldn't I make sure to be there and be awake? So for my own life how much more so!

Thank you everyone for reading, and acting in place of therapy for me. I know the whole thing was really silly, and I should have left them to die. But I am too much of a wimp for that to have ever been a real option.

here is a very short video of the black kitten taken a couple of hours before it died. The squeak had already gone out of it.

Please feel free to leave a condolence message below (or to tell me how stupid I am).
Thank you for reading


Monday, March 26, 2007

11 o'clock feeding

I've just finished the 11:00 pm feeding of the kittens (I know I seem to have a one track mind at the moment, but it helps take my mind of the panic of Pesach cleaning and the worry of when my wife will give birth - and how we will organise a Pesach brit if we need one).
All I can say is that G-d is amazing! I know everything is from evolution, and kittens are the way they are because more of their ancestors survived being this little, helpless and cute than those who were big, ugly and self sufficient. I know that Dawkins, Gould and Douglas Adams would say that the G-d myth is just to make us feel better about ourselves (although according to two of those G-d and religion were the worst inventions of humanity). BUT still, when G-d made, or allowed to evolve, or formed or breathed life into, or whatever it is that He did, He did it very well. So tiny, completely helpless, yet they somehow survive in nature and continue to reproduce. (Was that an argument against G-d's involvement? Surely He could have done it better I hear you asking. Well just leave me alone. It is 11:00pm and I still have tons of work to do and another feeding in 3 more hours!)

Another thing I don't understand is how anyone could be cruel to these animals. The consensus from most people we asked yesterday was that we should just put these kittens back outside and leave them to die. Nature is supposed to be cruel, they probably won't survive anyway, Jerusalem doesn't need any more cats. These claims are all true, but still, how is it possible to not feel for these creatures?
What astounds me more is why religious kids are terrified of animals, and how the system raises them without any kind of awareness of sensitivity to animals or the mitzvah of tza'ar ba'alei chaim. If nothing else (and there is a lot else) at least my Avi has learnt from these kittens that he can't have his cornflakes in the morning before he gets the bottle and feeds the kittens. That is a big and important message for an 11 year old. It is a Halacha that is probably foreign to most kids, since they don't grow up with animals or any sense of what it means to care for a pet. I know there are many explanations and reasons, financial, halachic, cultural etc. most of them very valid. But it is a pity that nothing is being done to rectify the situation. Why is nobody giving animal awareness classes? Why do adults not interfere when they see children chasing after terrified little cats or dogs (or doing worse to them)? Why do parents not take their children to see animals and interact with them in different settings?

Just thinking while listening to the squeaking of two very cute (and very mortal) 2 day old kittens. I would like to show you a video of them, but the quality didn't come out very well, so instead I'll leave you with something entirely different, from Aish Hatorah (which really made me laugh) about what I should really be doing now instead of dealing with kittens:

They have survived

They survived the night!!! Every time I woke up to feed them (actually I didn't go to bed until 3, and then got up to help my son feed them at 4) I expected to find at least one dead kitten. But their lust for life is stronger (so far) than my inexperienced attempts at helping them. I still draw the line at massaging their tushies to help them make (Avi said in a moment of 'whatever you say dad, just let me keep them, please, please, huh, huh, won't you?' that he would help their digestive system to function properly. I've no idea what their life expectancy is now, but so far so good.
Someone pointed out to me that all the great Jewish leaders (including Moshe) were chosen because of their care and dedication at looking after animals (usually sheep). I don't know what that means, but if there is any demand for leadership with qualifications in one night with kittens you can call Avi.
If anyone would like some orphan kittens you are welcome to have them.
If you remember the first Rocky movie you will know all about survivor:

Risin' up, back on the street
Did my time, took my chances
Went the distance, now I'm back on my feet
Just a man and his will to survive

So many times, it happens too fast
You change your passion for glory
Don't lose your grip on the dreams of the past
You must fight just to keep them alive

It's the eye of the tiger, it's the cream of the fight
Risin' up to the challenge of our rival
And the last known survivor stalks his prey in the night
And he's watchin' us all in the eye of the tiger

Face to face, out in the heat
Hangin' tough, stayin' hungry
They stack the odds 'til we take to the street
For we kill with the skill to survive


Risin' up, straight to the top
Have the guts, got the glory
Went the distance, now I'm not gonna stop
Just a man and his will to survive

(Ring any bells).

I just hope their end is better than the end of this clip about survival:

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Along came the cat ...

... and ate the kid.

It is a week before Pesach. We still have hardly started our Pesach cleaning. My wife is due to give birth some time in the next couple of weeks - and my 11 year old son came home today with two kittens less than a day old!!! Their mother abandoned them and so he and a friend had to save them. By the time I came home from work the neighbours had already bought kitten food (at an enormously (enor-mouse-ly?) huge expense) and phoned all the cat protection agencies in Jerusalem - none of whom wanted day old cats (the only option was to call the city vermin removal service, who would probably come along and kill them on the spot).
What to do? They need feeding every 3 hours (even during the night). It took an hour to try and get one load of food into them. They probably won't survive the night anyway. And if they do they will begin to wee in the corner and scratch the kids. BUT they still have their umblical cords attached, they have this eensie weensie mew, and they are so scrawny and helpless.... According to the 'tzar ba'alei chaim' organisation, if we can get them to survive for a week they will try and find a home for them (before putting them to sleep if they don't succeed). (And I'm a vegetarian - I can't even kill a cockroach, how could I kill two cats?)
All I could think of was the story in the Gemara about Rebbe and the rodents (well, first the calf, then the rodents).
We are about to celebrate the festival of freedom. We will begin our seders by saying 'anyone who is hungry should come and eat' (I know all the drashas and Torah on that, I know we don't really mean it, but still, the idea is there, right at the beginning before the pareve chicken soup). Did I have any choice?
And even though Avi promises me that he will get up every 3 hours during the night and feed them, I know that he couldn't even get up for Shul this morning, with me trying to wake him.
In chad gadya we say that the cat ate the goat. These cats aren't even eating cat formula, but they sure have devoured our kids (who were in tears at the thought of anything happening to them).
just about the only thing I can say positively about this whole episode is that at least I can share it with you - the rest of the world. Please give me some words of encouragement and support. And if you would like a day old kitten (or more likely a dead kitten by the time you read this) please feel free to come over and get it.
Thanks for reading
Chag kasher v'sameach

PS they look exactly like this only much smaller and not as stripy

Friday, March 23, 2007

Amazing Pesach facts

I was trying to work out what Pesach would have been like in Egypt in that first year. I haven't even got to any of the technical details yet, but just working out how many people there would have been in each house astounded me. Remember that the korban Pesach had to be eaten entirely before midnight (this would apply not only in Egypt, but in every other year until the destruction of the Temple as well, and hopefully very soon in the future when Mashiach comes - although I am a vegetarian and the sheep are bigger nowadays!). A sheep is quite a big animal, even a one year old. Goats are slightly smaller, but still have a lot of meat on them.
Have a look at my torahlab blog for the numbers, but you had better buy a bigger table and expandable walls for when Mashiach comes!

Here is the link (click on the entry titled 'sheep again').

Please send me your thoughts or comments. As a vegetarian I may have got the entire thing entirely wrong - please correct my mistakes.

Thank you. Here's praying for Mashiach.

Rabbi Sedley

Thursday, March 22, 2007

parshablog: Introducing the Absolut Haggada

While browsing on jblog (http://www.israelforum.com) I found this excellent Haggadah. It deals with many of the same issues that I spoke about in the shiur (which is in the previous post) and answers some of the outstanding questions, such as when the Haggadah was put into its present form (some time in the Gaonic period, though we have fragments from the Cairo Geniza which are pretty similar to todays Haggadah).
They also have a nifty chart which shows the parallels and differences between Rav and Shmuel in the way that the Haggadah is set out (and how we do both). They have also given the verses which we will spend most of the Seder explaining, and discuss why the authors of the Haggadah chose those verses (from Devarim) instead of the story itself which is in Shemot.
There is then a commentary on the Haggadah which will serve you well on the Seder night (if you so desire).

I think it is an excellent piece of work, but don't just take my word for it. Have a look yourself.

The link to their blog is parshablog: Introducing the Absolut Haggada (which is actually also just a good blog in general) or you can type www.parsha.blogspot.com into your web browser.

PS If you are not an American, Maxwell House is a brand of coffee that makes (or perhaps once upon a time made) Haggadot which apparently everyone in America owns several copies of (although perhaps it is mostly the Jews in New York who own them - it is all a mystery to me)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Hagadah of Pesach

I gave a shiur a couple of days ago at Midreshet Rachel about the Mitzvah of 'sipur yetziat mitzraim'. This is the mitzah of speaking about the exodus from Egypt on the night(s) of seder. I discussed the differences between this mitzvah and the twice daily mitzvah of remembering the exodus. We go through the Hagada and discuss the format and structure of the seder. It is interesting that the mishna tells us that we must begin with disgrace and end with praise, there is an argument between Rav and Shmuel as to what this means, and we do both. In other words we have two sets of 4 questions - Mah Nishtana and later the 4 sons. We have 2 separate answers - We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt and Our ancestors worshipped idols, and we have two sets of praise to conclude.
Many people don't realise that the second (and long, boring) part of the Hagada (before the meal) is all based on a couple of p'sukim (verses). The Mishna tells us to 'darshan' them (and I'm still not sure how to translate that word but I'm open to offers) so we go on a long excursion through drashot on p'sukim. I think knowing that format helps to make sense of what is actually going on at the seder. But for that you will have to listen to the recording.
The shiur is just under an hour. Enjoy.

For a Streamed Link Click Here
To Download Click Here

Friday, March 02, 2007

Short vort Parshat Zachor

I gave the short vort this week for Shapell's. It is about Parshat Zachor. The midrash (Pesikta d'Rabbi Yishmael end of Beshalach)says that Amalek's descendents are not accepted as converts. On the other hand the Gemara in Gittin (57b) says that Haman's grandsons taught and learnt Torah in B'nei Brak. The short vort tries to resolve this contradiction. You can access it here:

Or through the Shapell's web page: http://www.darchenoam.org/articles/audio/au_home.htm

Shabbat Shalom and Wishing you all a very happy Purim

Rabbi Sedley