Not too long ago I used to speak in S.A. once or twice a year. Every trip was memorable but none quite like the very first one. Returning from a Shabbaton for University Students, my hosts decided we should stop off at the Lion Park, about an hour north of Johannesburg, to give me a taste of the “real” Africa. We collected a brochure. A page showed a picture of a little blonde-haired girl cuddling a fluffy ball. The caption revealed that this fluffy ball was a baby lion. The cub is separated from the pride at birth to protect it from the adult lion, which might accidentally kill it. At the age of six months, the young lions are reintroduced back into the pride.
I read all this with interest, and I made up my mind that a picture of Daddy, cuddling a fluffy ball of a lion cub, would be exactly the thing to take home to my little daughters. My host asked if I wanted to get into the cage and have my picture taken with the cubs. But these cubs were not the fluffy balls from the brochure. In fact they were six months old and about the size of an Alsatian dog. I decided that I did not want to get into a cage with lion cubs this size.
My problem was that I had promised the nine-year-old son of my host to take him to have his picture taken with me and I didn’t want to look like a chicken in the eyes of a nine-year-old. On the other hand; I didn’t want to look like a chicken in the eyes of a lion either. We entered the cage. My young friend and I sat on the little hill next to the lions, I beside the beasts and he beside me.
I came to the conclusion that a lion is really just a great big pussycat. I leaned over and started to tickle the nearest lion behind the ear while doing a rather good impression of a cat purring. The lion’s head snapped around. His teeth snapped, too. The tourists outside were delighted. “Oh, look,” someone said. “It nearly bit him,” and they started to click their cameras. The attendant entered the cage. He came over to where I was now standing and picked up one of the beasts and pushed it against my chest. It was obvious the lion had outgrown this sort of stuff and no longer wanted to be picked up by tourists. It wanted to be put down, and it indicated this to me by sinking it's teeth into my arm. I put it down. I still have a nice scar on my upper arm that required three stitches. When I tell people that a lion bit me, they give me an amused and disbelieving smile.
I have six children. They seemed to grow up so fast and were soon married and gone. Now I have lots and lots of little grandchildren. Last Shabbos, back in the UK, I watched my third son put his hands on his little “cubs” heads and say the words of blessing that Jewish parents have said to their children for thousands of years.... “Yvarechecho V’Yishmorecho” Hashem should bless you and protect you... Then those smiling little children watched as I put my own hands and repeated those words on their own father’s head.
Time seems so keen to catapult our children into adolescence, then adulthood and away from us. Saying that blessing, slows the “Ganov” time right down. Every week my grandchildren witness their father and mother chasing that Ganov away. Through those words they show them how each one will always be connected to them and I saw their little eyes shine watching their “Zeidie” sending Time the same message about his little boy; their grown up Dad.
Rabbi YY Rubinstein
Writer, speaker, broadcaster, and author of 9 books, Rabbi YY Rubenstein has inspired millions. He has been heralded by The “Independent” Newspaper as among five people in the UK to turn to for advice. Even Queen Elizabeth has declared herself a fan of Rabbi YY’s Broadcasts saying, “He’s awfully good!” Find more from Rabbi Rubenstein here: http://www.rabbiyy.com/