The recent spectacular events at the United Nations with Nikki Haley and the State of Israel were not just a political drama. At another level, there has been a wildlife drama playing out.
In 1755, Voltaire attacked the authenticity of Scripture, referring to the account of Samson capturing three hundred foxes, tying them to fire-brands and setting them to the crops of the Philistines. Voltaire mocked the story, noting that it is impossible to find three hundred foxes at any one time. Foxes are solitary creatures; if one finds a fox, there will not be another anywhere nearby.
But Voltaire was making a fundamental mistake. The creatures that Samson captured were not foxes. The Hebrew word shu’al does not refer to the fox. Instead, it refers to an animal in the same family: the jackal. Whereas foxes are solitary animals, jackals band together in large groups. The reason for the mistranslation was that Biblical scholarship had moved away from the Land of Israel and into Europe, where there were no jackals and people were unfamiliar with them. The animals of the Bible are the animals of the Land of Israel. Translators and readers of the Bible always interpret its animal life in terms of the animals with which they are familiar; but if they are living in the United States or Europe, then the animals with which they are familiar are not necessarily going to be the right animals. It was not foxes that Samson captured, but rather a pack of jackals.
In 1981, the Democratic Senator Daniel P. Moynihan, a former United States Ambassador to the United Nations, wrote an article entitled “Joining the Jackals,” in which he sharply criticized the Carter Administration for supporting an anti-Israel resolution in the UN. The title was borrowed from an earlier Washington Post editorial of the same title, which described the UN as a pack of jackals that shamelessly hounds Israel. Moynihan observed that the Carter Administration’s downfall was brought about by a failed approach to the UN, which was in denial of the innate hostility of the UN towards both the United States and Israel, and which failed to stand up for true moral standards.
Three thousand years ago, Jerusalem became the capital of the Jewish nation of Israel, where it housed the Temple (though the Palestinians and UNESCO continue to deny this simple historical fact). Throughout the exile and dispersion, the Jewish people prayed for the rebuilding of this city, which finally happened with the modern State of Israel. The emblem of the city of Jerusalem is the lion, which appears in this week’s Torah portion as the symbol of the tribe of Judah. Judah was the tribe from which the kings of Israel arose, and was therefore symbolized by the lion, king of beasts. The kings of Israel reigned from the capital city of Jerusalem, which the prophet Isaiah called Ariel, “lion of God.”
When the United States—first Congress in 1995, and then President Trump and Nikki Haley last week—acknowledged Jerusalem as being the capital of Israel, they took on the lion’s cause. And, when they stood against the condemnations of the world, they took on the lion’s courage. Proverbs 30:30 declares that “The lion is the mightiest of animals, and does not turn away before anyone.” The original Hebrew of this verse, velo yashuv mipnei kol, can perhaps more accurately be translated as saying that the lion does not turn away even before everyone. It is not just any individual animal of which the lion is unafraid; it is not even afraid of masses of animals together. Not even a huge pack of jackals. The United States has adopted the lion’s cause, and, like the lion, it has stood unafraid of the jackals.
The Mishnah (Avot 4:15) states, in its common translation, “Be a tail to lions and not a head to foxes.” Yet as with Samson, the animals being mentioned here are not foxes, but rather jackals. Be a tail to lions, and not a head to jackals—it is better to attach oneself to greater entities, even as an insignificant follower, then to be in a leadership position with lowly entities. Guatemala, in stating that it will follow America’s lead and move its embassy to Jerusalem, has recognized this, and several other countries are poised to follow suit. Let us hope that other nations will recognize the wisdom and morality in following the leadership of the lion rather than joining the jackals.
Rabbi Dr. Natan Slifkin is the founder and director of The Biblical Museum of Natural History in Beit Shemesh, www.BiblicalNaturalHistory.org