The Lesson of the Lion

A n elderly king and his many sons chose to make the forest the place they called home. A brilliant and powerful warrior, the king taught his children the art of warfare and armed them with suitable weapons to keep both the bandits and dangerous animals at bay. He warned them, however, that they must constantly remain awake and alert. He would watch over them, but they must be vigilant as well. Again and again they were attacked, and together they repelled those who sought to harm them.

Eventually the sons began to ignore their father’s warning and chose to sleep instead of being on guard. Their father pretended that he too was sleeping. One day a large and dangerous creature attacked them. The sons awoke, and frightened, shouted for help until their father came to their rescue.

When the danger passed, the sons allowed themselves again to be overcome by apathy and sleep instead of staying awake. Their father again pretended to lower his guard. This time they were attacked by young lions and were forced to fight back all together.

The sons discussed the situations among themselves and decided that the time had come to hire a watchdog that would keep guard for them so that they would be able to sleep. The notion angered their father, but he again pretended to be asleep when his sons, relying on the dog, retired for the night.

A roaming lion arrived on the scene. Seeing that all the humans were sleeping, he was considering staging an attack when the watch dog approached him.

“My master, this is the time to strike these humans,” the watchdog urged. “They are defenseless.”

The lion was skeptical.

“I know this group of men,” he told the dog. “They and their old father have always defeated all those who attacked them.”

“That was because one among them was awake,” argued the dog. “This time they are all sleeping. If you are still afraid of them, I will take away their weapons and they will be unable to fight back.”

The lion agreed, but out of an abundance of caution decided to stay to the side, in case one of them would wake up before the mission was accomplished. The dog crept over to each of the sons and took away his weapon. Just as the dog was about to finish disarming all the children, the father — who had been awake the entire time and had wisely remained silent — stretched out both arms. With his right hand he prodded his oldest son awake, and with his left he used his spear to wound the lion from behind, and then again pretended to be asleep.

Now awake, sensing a lion nearby and his weapons gone, the oldest son began to shout, mightily and bitterly. His siblings woke up as well, and joined him in his shouting.

The lion, realizing that something had gone very wrong, decided that the dog must have betrayed him.

He must have awakened the humans and then bitten me, the lion decided. Furious, the lion proceeded to kill the dog and made peace with the father and his sons.

***

The Chasam Sofer uses this parable to explain the story of Purim.

The wise King is the Ribbono shel Olam, His children are bnei Yisrael. Our weapon is the Torah, and our Father repeatedly warns us to be on guard constantly and remain alert in our observance of the mitzvos. Throughout history enemies have sought to attack us, but when we remained awake — such as during the time of Sancheriv — we were able to defeat them. When we allowed ourselves to be overcome by apathy, fell asleep at our posts, then our Father acted as if he too was asleep, so to speak, i.e., He brought on a period of hester Panim.

We then decided to hire a “watchdog” to defend us , i.e., we allowed ourselves to intermingle and assimilate with the other nations in order to “protect” ourselves. Haman sought that assimilation symbolically by inviting the Jews to the feast of Achashverosh.

When Haman implored Achashverosh the “lion,” to destroy the Jewish nation, Achashverosh was afraid. He pointed out that the Jews, with the help of Hashem, had defeated many powerful enemies in the past. Haman responded that “this time” they were all “asleep,” — i.e., the Jews had slacked off in their performance of the mitzvos and therefore even the Ribbono shel Olam was exhibiting hester Panim. Haman promised to “remove all their weapons” by convincing them to totally abandon a life of Torah. Achashverosh, who hated Jews and sought their destruction, allowed himself to be convinced and enacted the decree.

The Ribbono shel Olam, however, in His infinite mercy, then “woke” up His oldest son, Mordechai Hatzaddik, who then shouted a loud and bitter cry. Hashem simultaneously “wounded” Achashverosh by disturbing his sleep and convincing him that it was Haman who was betraying him.

Furious, Achashverosh killed Haman and “made peace” with ­Mordechai and Esther.

***

As this teaching reminds us, it often seems that our people are in grave danger physically, threatened by malicious enemies. We must, however, bear in mind that in reality, the essential solution is a spiritual one. It was the tefillos, the fasting, the teshuvah and total dedication to Torah that brought salvation to our ancestors in the time of Mordechai and Esther. As we contend with our contemporary versions of angry lions and devious dogs, may we merit being able to learn from the example of our ancestors, and may we too merit a complete salvation.