Lion, Donkey or Wolf?

Thursday, 28 December, 2017 - 8:10 am

L.jpgLion, Donkey or Wolf? 

At the end of his life, Jacob gathered his children to impart his final words and blessings.

Time and again in the book of Genesis, we read about the challenge of succession, the challenge of conveying an intangible, fragile, idea, to the next generation. Indeed, all through the book of Genesis it is only one son who is chosen to be entrusted with the spiritual legacy; the selection of the successor was usually surrounded by tension and conflict.

For the first time in Jewish history, all the twelve sons of Jacob received the blessing and responsibility for carrying the legacy of Abraham. Each of them had a unique personality, a specific quality; the particular contribution of each of them would be critical to the Jewish story.

Jacob refers to many of his children using a metaphor of animals:

“A cub, a grown lion is Judah… He crouched, rested like a lion, and like a lion, who will rouse him?”

“Issachar is a bony donkey, lying between the boundaries.”

“Dan will be a serpent on the road, a viper on the path, which bites the horse's heels, so its rider falls backwards.”

“Naphtali is a swift gazelle, who utters beautiful words.”

“Benjamin is a wolf, he will prey; in the morning he will devour plunder, and in the evening he will divide the spoil."[1]

Amongst the blessings both wild animals of prey as well as domesticated animals are used to describe the tribes. The wild animals represent passionate love to G-d, while the domesticated animals, who are tamed and who easily submit to human beings, represent submission and commitment to the Divine will.

In the terminology of the Kabbalah, the pulse of spiritual life is both “running” and ”returning”. ”Running” is the yearning to escape the confines of one’s own existence. “Running” is the feeling of passionate love to G-d. “Running”, is the feeling of inspiration. But inspiration alone is like a flame without fuel. Inspiration alone will evaporate unless it is followed by “return”, unless the inspiration and passion are channeled into specific, tangible, concrete action. The flame of inspiration will not last unless it is channeled into “vessels”, into day to day life.

The two qualities of “running” and “returning” are both necessary for any human endeavor. A successful business requires vision and inspiration - the passionate energy that keeps the place “running”, as well as a commitment to the, sometimes, tedious tasks necessary for running the business, the “returning”.

The same is true about relationships. Without emotion there is no energy, no fire, no inspiration. Yet “running” alone is not enough. For a relationship to endure, there must be a commitment to the other, one must submit and invest in the relationship regardless of whether he or she feels inspiration at the moment.

The same is true for our relationship with G-d. The Torah seeks to inspire us with love and awe. We begin the day with an effort to “run”, to escape the mundane, to transcend the material and to connect to the heavens. Yet Judaism teaches that we must “return” to the earth to sanctify it. We must “return” with the inspiration and commit to fulfilling the Divine will on this earth.

Jacob gathered his children and reminds them that each of their qualities is critical to the Jewish story. We must “run”, be passionate, like the lion, but also “return”, be committed and dependable, like the donkey.[2]  

[1] Genesis Chapter 49.

[2] Based on Or Hatorah, Bireyshis (vol. 5) page 1984.  

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