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Rav Kook’s ‘The Caged Lion’

Like the lions in Rabbi Kook’s poem, may we also find the longing for freedom.
Caged Lion

Photo Credit: M. Tjong A Tjoe

In addition to having been a master in all disciplines of Torah, and a great visionary, Rabbi Kook also wrote many powerful and inspiring poems, expressing his passionate yearning for God. Here for your enjoyment is a short fable he penned. Unfortunately, my translation can’t compare to the beauty and depth of the original Hebrew, with its rich imagery and multiple nuances. But its symbolism and message to Diaspora Jews are obvious.

Like the lions in Rabbi Kook’s poem, may we also find the longing for freedom, and the courage to shatter the cage of our long exile, to make our way joyously back to the glorious, tree-filled kingdom from whence we came.

The Caged Lion

THE old lion is broken
Tired from his many hunters
Trapped in a narrow cage
He remembers times from his childhood
Memories of freedom
The valor of the forest.

His cubs were born in captivity
Their souls don’t feel his weariness
Yet their souls haven’t grown.
They haven’t been broken by the enemy
Because they haven’t seen battle
And the valor of the forest they don’t know.

Though the cage is narrow
It doesn’t oppress them so much,
It inhibits the wildness of their youth,
But the cubs don’t moan
Over this small matter,
And the glow in their eyes
Over this doesn’t darken.

The cubs are angry with their father,
Why is he so sunken in his thoughts
To have forgotten about life?
There still is room to frolic a little
Even in this narrow cage.
The children are astounded
When they look upon the aged lion
So stooped over and sighing.

ONCE the old lion awakened
And told his tale to the playful youngsters,
“There is a world filled with light
A place filled with liberty and freedom
A forest of great expanses,
And towering trees
How pleasant are those cedars of G-d!
The scents of the forest restore the soul
A myriad of living creatures dwell within
And everything is enlivened with the pleasures of freedom.

“And when I was your age, children,
It was there that I ruled with pride and strength
All of the forest’s warriors bowed before me.
And if not for my pursuers who shattered my bones,
And if not for this narrow cage
I would still now be ruling in the forest
And you too would be filled with freedom and pride.”

These words came forth from the old one
And the youths ceased to frolic.
Instead of joy in their eyes
A flash of revenge shone in them,
Eyes filled with fire and blood,
And with an embittered spirit and hidden rage
They tried to break
The narrow cage.

THE soul of mighty lions roared inside the cubs
And their eyes also saw
With all the same force
The kingdom of the forest.
The longings in them grew stronger
To reach the open expanses,
To the place where their old father ruled.

They couldn’t keep still in the cage
The scent of the oak trees of the forest
Filled their nostrils and lungs,
The colors of budding flowers
Held their hearts captive

Their spirits didn’t fall
And they didn’t groan
Like the elder
Whose bones had broken,
And the light of his life turned gloomy
Because of the oppression of his captors
Who turned his world upside down.
And with a yearning of spirit
Like billowing flames
Their hearts yearned for the forest.

“IF in sincerity and innocence
The forest is loved,”
The old broken lion once said,
“Then the soul of proud lions
Still beats within you,
And this the narrow cage
Won’t be your home
For you will always belong to the forest kingdom.”

The words of the elder
Strengthened the hearts of the youth,
And with the power and valor of young lions
They began to smash at the cage’s bars
With their claws, their teeth, and their roars
Frightening the captors
From their routine guard.
And with a fierce spirit raging with love for the forest
They broke and shattered the walls of the narrow cage.

SEEING the boldness of the cubs
The old broken lion was filled with courage,
And a spark of the proud lion inside him was kindled anew.
Taking a place in the front of his sons
All of his being filled with valor,
And together with a spirit of freedom
They fled to a place with freedom and light.
Hearing the roar of lions, their captors trembled in fear,
And with a proud spirit the lions went on their way
Until they came to the place of the oaks
To the castle of the lions
As it had been from time immemorial.

It was as if the old lion regained his youth
And his broken insides
Became bonded together in joy.
And he together with his cubs
Spoke victoriously to their enemies at the forest’s edge
And all the lions returned
To raise up the forest kingdom.

About the Author: Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Creativity and Jewish Culture for his novel "Tevye in the Promised Land." For the past several years, he has written a popular and controversial blog at Arutz 7. A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon. The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not represent the views of The Jewish Press


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Tzvi Fishman, author of the Jewish Press blog Felafel on Rye and author of more than a dozen books.
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