Yehudah is a lions cub. You rose up from your prey. He crouched, lying like a lion, and like a lion, who shall rouse him? (Bereishit 49:9) 

He lay crouching like a lion, and like a lion, who shall rouse him? Those who bless you are blessed, and those who curse you are cursed. (Bamidbar 24:9) 

The first verse quoted above is taken from Yaakov’s pronouncements and predictions/blessings given to his sons before he died. The second is taken from Bil’am, as he tried to curse Israel, but could only say what the Eternal put in his mouth. Both describe the fearsome power that Israel (or Yehudah) holds. He is a fearsome lion that none should dare to cross. Bil’am’s blessing elaborates upon that, emphasizing what will happen to anyone who wishes ill or good upon Israel. The last part of Bil’am’s blessing quoted here is reminiscent of what God said to Avram: I shall bless those who bless you, and curse those who curse you (Bereishit 12:3).  

The Piasezcna Rebbe, who was taken and murdered by the Nazis along with the rest of his community of Chassidim, wrote a book while in the ghetto called “Esh Kodesh,” meaning “Holy Fire.” There, he comments on the verse from Bamidbar. He says that Israel sometimes crouches like a lion. When it does, it always springs up with majesty and vigor.  

I heard that teaching while visiting a yeshiva in Israel. The person reading that text pointed out that the Piaseczna Rebbe was in a Nazi ghetto at the time. The Holocaust was a time when Israel was “crouching,” or “lying.” As a lion rises up and leaps after crouching, so too did the Jewish people rise up and establish the State of Israel after the Holocaust.  

Today, with anti-Semitic incidents on the rise, and with the different sectors of the Jewish world become more divided from one another, it seems that the Jewish people are headed towards another “crouch.” What will raise us up? 

Rashi’s interpretation of the verse in Bereishit gives us some insight. Where the verse says “You rose up from your prey,” Rashi comments that when all of his brothers were intent upon killing Yosef, Yehudah rose up from that, and led his brothers to spare Yosef’s life. For this, Yaakov predicts that Yehudah will become the ruling tribe, and that the Mashiach will come from him.  

Similar moral courage on our parts will raise us above the divisions between Jews, and the divisions between people that grow constantly during this time. Rising above the ideological tribalism and the bigotries that characterize this time is what will bring us from our “crouching” state to one of springing and leaping forward.  

Shabbat Shalom! 

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