- Yehuda Pevzner
Training a Cat
Is it possible to turn a cat into a waiter?
Once, the Rambam (Maimonides) had a disagreement with the non-Jewish scholars. They believed that an animal’s natural instinct could be tamed and they could be taught to act like human beings. The Rambam disagreed, arguing that it was impossible to change the nature of an animal.
To prove their point, the scholars trained a cat to be a waiter. They invited a large large group of people, including the Rambam himself, to view the wonderful spectacle. Indeed the cat lived up to its expectations; it set the table, greeted each guest with respect, served the wine, etc.
Suddenly, the Rambam took out a small box and opened its lid - out jumped a mouse. As soon as the cat saw the mouse, it dropped everything and started running. The cat had resigned its waiter duties in order to catch the mouse! Seeing this, everyone admitted that the Rambam was right and that it was impossible to teach a cat to permanently change its nature.
Are we any different than cats? In this week's Torah portion, Moshe tells the Children of Israel that Judaism is very close to you in your mouth and in your heart, to do it. Is it really that easy to mature our passions?
The answer is yes. Human beings have self control. There are two things to have in mind when attempting to overcome our inner temptations. The first is that if a person has negative desires and lusts, it does not make him evil. It makes a lot of sense that the outside world will affect you. On the other hand, one must remember that as humans, we can overcome it. Our head is placed above our heart to remind us of this fact. Animals, by contrast, walk on all fours, aligning their heart with their minds. So no, we can’t fall into despair when we have bad desires. It’s natural. And yet, that very nature is able to be overcome.
In Judaism, there are many challenges. It can be overwhelming. Taking each challenge as they come, one by one, is doable. In fact, it is close to you.
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Candle lighting time (NYC): 7:06 PM