Photo Credit: Metropolitan Museum of Art Collection: Open Access
Marble statue of a lion (Greek, ca. 400–390 BCE)

The daf yomi of Bava Kama 116 discusses some very dangerous scenarios, but still gives us hope that one day the wolf will live with the sheep (Isaiah 11:6).

Caravans have always been fraught with danger. The Talmud (Bava Kama 116b) dealt with a caravan traveling through a desert, when an organized group of bandits “stood over it” in order to attack and pillage it. Were the victims concerned about their lives? Not according to the Talmud. The only discussion there was how to calculate contributions to the ransom demanded – according to the respective sum of money each traveler was carrying and not per capita. The bandits, apparently, were very practical, and were not interested in the lives, the religions, or even the souls of their victims.


Then the Talmud discusses a scenario where such travelers hired some kind of professional to travel in front of them, not merely to show them the way and to lead the way, but also to be the first to face any adversity, and to fight off danger before it would reach them. Once again, all they seemed concerned about was how to pay for their protection, this time on a per capita basis, based on the number of souls saved.

In both cases, they don’t seem to have been worried about being killed, as long as they came up with the necessary funding.

But on the same page (actually, 116a), there is a discussion of an incident that defies being read literally as much as any other story recounted in the Talmud. Rav Safra was traveling in a caravan, and a lion accompanied them, without any reference to any leash (not that it would have helped) or cage (not that it could have enabled the lion to affirmatively accompany them). Based on the context, some contemporary rabbis have interpreted this passage as referring to a “friendly” lion, there to protect the caravan from external danger (almost like a pet) – by some kind of an informal or maybe intuitive understanding that challenges the imagination more than any other. Indeed the Talmud notes that the travelers would send one of their donkeys to the lion for its evening dinner, and the lion would routinely eat the donkey and continue to protect the travelers from any external harm.

The rabbis of the Talmud concerned themselves with the ownership of the lucky donkey on the single occasion when the lion didn’t eat a donkey. At that point, however, the participants themselves might have been more concerned about their own safety – after all, they were accompanied by a hungry lion accustomed to eating a whole donkey every night, but didn’t eat its usual meal on this particular night.

If it could have been of any consolation, the commentators known as Tosfos observe that it is possible the lion didn’t feel hungry enough to eat a whole donkey every night. Small consolation, though, considering that a) the language of the Talmud gives no indication of an exception to the rule of one donkey per meal, or per night, on the menu; b) a human might have made a perfectly satisfactory meal if there was inadequate appetite for a whole donkey; and c) none of the travelers were in a position – or a century – to have read that Tosfos!

Somehow, what piques my interest about this more than anything else is how the King of the Jungle, symbolizing ferocity more than any other animal – or at least as much – could have possibly been relied on for protection, let alone could have reached an understanding about guardianship and payment for it. True, this incident in the Talmud can theoretically be literal; circus animals can be trained, but they would normally need a professional trainer, 24 hours a day, in shifts, and controlled conditions of a circus, at all times, to be relied on.

Nevertheless, this whole incident as set forth in the Talmud leads me to conclude that if there is hope for reaching an agreement with a lion and for not fearing it for so many obvious reasons, there is hope for a post-war Gaza – or what will be left of it, if anything – to become fundamentally different from its current “fundamentalist” status, so that Israelis may somehow be able to make a realistic deal with a realistic surviving leadership there, or its successors, to the extent they can be relied upon. (Or is this prospect even more fanciful than anything else?)

There is a “son of Hamas” (name of a book as well) – Mosab Hassan Yousef (a/k/a “the Green Prince”) – son of Hamas co-founder Sheikh Hassan Yousef. This rebellious son defected to Israel, worked for the Shin Bet, and had no trouble ultimately being accepted in the United States for political asylum. He was long considered Israel’s most valuable source of information within Hamas, and he continues to say all the “right” things now whenever he is interviewed. Query how many such sons can have any influence in Gaza itself, keeping in mind that the son who switched sides would not live to see the sun set had he stayed in Gaza.

Some Hamas soldiers have already decided during the current war not to fight to the death but to voluntarily surrender; other members of Hamas have been known to urge their leaders to put an end to the agony on both sides, though undoubtedly to save their hides; not to change sides, and not because of a sudden change in character.

Still, if the King of the Jungle can serve as a guard for some Jewish people in a caravan, and if the “son of Hamas” can do so much good on behalf of Israel and humanity, might there be any hope that the sons – and orphans – of the current members of Hamas might see the light or switch sides as well or maybe, more realistically, renounce their religious fanaticism at the very least? It’s a wishful thought, but more counterintuitive things have happened, as noted above in the page of the Talmud studied around the world a few days ago.

We believe in miracles. Even the secular Prime Minister David Ben Gurion (who chose the name “son of a lion”) conceded that “in Israel, in order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles.” So whether it’s a reliable lion or a revolution to tame and win over the sons of the perpetrators of what happened on October 7, we can still look forward to more sunshine on the horizon and more sons interested in a bright future for all.

Share this article on WhatsApp:

Previous articleNew Community Approved in Gush Etzion
Next articleHarvard Antisemitism Task Force Leader Resigns In Frustration
Rabbi Aaron I. Reichelm esq., has written, edited, or supplemented various books, most notably about rabbis and community leaders in his family. But one of his most enduring memories is hearing that his grandmother who he remembers as always being in a wheelchair consistently said that her favorite English song was “Count your blessings.”