Cats Have Nine Lives?

Cats don’t really have nine lives, but a Bengal breed named Bobby was apparently out to disprove critics this past June. Hitching a ride with some dirty clothes, he went for a 140°F spin in the washing machine. Strange thudding noises made his owner suspect that Bobby had somehow evaded detection and entered one of his favored napping spots. Noticing the distinct hue of cat-colors in the laundry hodgepodge, she immediately extracted and rushed Bobby to the animal hospital. “In my 15 years as a vet,” exclaimed the furry daredevil’s emergency-care provider, “I’ve never seen a case like this … of a cat surviving a washing machine cycle!” In fact, Bengal Bobby was nominated for a PDSA Pet Survivor award. Nonetheless, Bobby lost interest in substantiating his remaining eight lives; he’s terrified of his erstwhile cozy nook and won’t touch it with a 9-foot pole.

One theory as to how the cats-have-nine-lives myth began surrounds the unique agility furry felines display — in particular, their uncanny propensity to almost always land on their feet. Through slow-motion video, scientists observed that cats always right themselves — while still airborne — in the same pattern. The head rotates first — based on processing sensations of its eyes and ears — followed by some spectacular spine-twisting; then the hindquarters align to complete the rotation. Finally, it arches its back to minimize the force of impact. It’s more bouncing than falling. Cats seem to actually use the falling-force to propel themselves forward and run to their next destination.

As it turns out, the amount of time a cat is afforded to perform this maneuver plays a major role in terms of how serious an injury it is likely to suffer. National Geographic interviewed veterinarians who studied the confounding phenomenon known as high-rise syndrome — urban felines’ tendency to go careening out of windows tens or more feet off the ground — and the fact that falling from higher heights was resulting in less severe injuries! Their theory is that greater distance affords more time to complete full rotation and then enter a relaxed state of parachute-like free-fall that enables it to absorb impact with less injury. In 2012 a Boston cat fell from a 19-story window (!) emerging with nothing more than a bruised chest!

Taking a cue from the animal inhabitants of this world is something that Chazal make clear is a positive undertaking. Lions demonstrate acting with power, ants don’t steal from one another, and eagles show us what it means to attain great heights of achievement with a sense of ease and weightlessness.[1] With that in mind, you can’t help but wonder if this death-defying agility of cats is a skill that we could somehow learn and assimilate. Think about it: We all experience falls from time to time — some physical, some emotional, some social. Situations that — sans knowing how to minimize the force of impact — can potentially inflict a lot of harm. Imagine if we possessed the ability to right ourselves mid-fall and maneuver in such a way that we roll with the fall instead of crashing into it. How much pain and suffering that would spare us! Not only that, but it could empower us to harness the force of impact to propel us forward.

Truth be told, if there is any nation that can be said to have “nine lives,” it is the Jewish nation. No other has been as harassed, persecuted, violated, banished and burned as we. Yet, we always manage to somehow bounce back, with great force — to our enemies’ greatest chagrin.

And that has a lot to do with the time period we are currently in. Harav Moshe Twersky, Hy”d, said that the three weeks is not only about mourning over the Churban that was, the centuries of tragedies it spawned, and the galus of pain and suffering that still is. Bein Hametzarim, emphasized Harav Twersky, is an opportunity to connect with the yearning for a much brighter future, tzipiyah l’yeshuah; to contemplate the greatness and grandeur that we had — Eretz Yisrael, Beis Hamikdash, hashraas haShechinah; to feel the current deep sense of loss and lack, and pine to regain it. Generally, it’s hard to live with this sense of lacking, and the resultant intense yearning. During the three weeks, though, it can be much easier to think about and connect with these feelings. In fact, roughly 20 percent of the Kinos reflect on the greatness of Tzion that was lost and the deep yearning to get it back. It’s not just about feeling awful over the endless river of blood and tears we suffer throughout this long, long galus. It is a springboard of connection and yearning — this intensity of mourning — that propels us forward toward our glorious future.

[1] See Avos 5:20 and Eruvin 100b.