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The Caged Lion

By Tzvi Fishman
8/23/2010, 12:00 AM

We missed devoting a blog to Rabbi Kook on his yortzeit last week. 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 which sublimely express his passionate yearning for G-d. 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 the symbolism and message of the fable are obvious all the same.   

 

THE CAGED LION


1

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.


 2

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.

 

3

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.

 

4

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.

 

5

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.


 

THE END

 

This coming year, as we assemble to hear the shofar of our freedom, may the eternal spirit of the proud Lion of Judah be awakened in all of our hearts to shatter our cages and bring us home free once again to our Land.