Sunday, January 04, 2009

763. The Dream of the Third Cat

I sometimes have a strange, recurring dream in which I own a third cat (in non-dream reality, I have two). This cat is tortoiseshell, small, and although I have a vague memory that I saw him once or twice over the years, I'm not certain I believe myself. Until once day there he is, eating out of the bowl like business as usual. I'm distressed--how could he have hidden in my little apartment all this time? How did he survive--who fed him, where did he sleep? And how lonely he must have been, concealed by the shadows for so long. But he looks happy, confident, and not at all abused, and I am suddenly paralyzed with guilt--I should have noticed, remembered he was my responsibility. I am a horrible person. I rush over to pick him up, but he scurries away.

I thought of this dream the other week during Parashat Miketz, as we read about Joseph's interpretation of visions of fat and skinny cows. I admire Joseph's self-confidence; no matter if it was a ruse to gain Pharaoh's favor and stay alive. I don't know what midrash says about this, but it seems that Joseph didn't miss a beat:

(41:24) [Pharaoh is talking:] And the thin ears swallowed the seven healthy ears. I have told my magicians, but none has an explanation for me." (25) And Joseph said to Pharaoh, "Pharaoh's dreams are one and the same: God has told Pharaoh what He is about to do.

Had Joseph said, "Well, let me think a minute. Hmm, maybe God means this...", would Pharaoh have agreed so quickly? Did Joseph really hear that interpretation directly from God's mouth? Who knows, but his conviction persuades Pharaoh to give him the benefit of the doubt. Can I--or God, or any seer or shrink--interpret my dream of the third cat with the same certainty? Not likely, which is fitting, because I think it's a dream about doubt--in myself, my perception of the world, whether I am doing enough on all sorts of levels.

In my dream the third cat is like Joseph, scrappy, strong, and assured, but I look at him and see only questions. In this time of great pain in the world, and of my own confusion about this new war, whose confident words do I believe? Is anyone really right or wrong, and how do I express this in a way that honors my love of Israel? I need to learn from this dream, and Joseph, to not be paralyzed by my own doubts and fears.

At services this Shabbat, the rabbi spoke about God's promise to Jacob in Parashat Vayigash:

(46:2) God called to Israel in a vision by night: "Jacob! Jacob!" He answered, "Here." (3) And He said, "I am God, the God of your father. Fear not to go down to Egypt, for I will make you there into a great nation. (4) I Myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I Myself will also bring you back; and Joseph's hand shall close your eyes."

Why does God choose to call him "Jacob" at this moment rather than his new name of Israel, wonders Ramban? He called him Jacob in order to hint that now he will not contend with God and men and prevail [the reasoning used when his name was changed to "God-wrestler"], but he will be in a house of bondage until He will also bring him up again, since from this moment, the exile begins with him. Jacob is now in a seven skinny cow part of his life, so to speak, and his name must reflect this. But God assures him that he will never be alone; God will be his constant companion. I think this is the real lesson of my dream, as well. And if I am lucky and strong, the third cat is me during these skinny times.

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