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Scars of a Lion

“You shall arise as a lion each morning to do the will of your Creator.” That stirring sentence opens the Shulchan Aruch, the Jewish code of law. It reminds us that at the heart of the Jewish tradition is the conviction that there are things worth fighting for.

In a more peaceful age, it is easy to dismiss the necessity of fighting. Acceptance has a long and noble tradition, but unwise appeasement has a long and ignoble one. Everybody who cherishes some value in this world has to be willing to bear the consequence of defending that value, or it will disappear.

There is a stirring conversation in Alan Paton’s book, “Ah, But Your Land is Beautiful.” It’s between a black person and a white person who both fought for racial justice in South Africa and risked their lives. One of them says they may bear a lot of scars for the effort and the other answers: “Well, I look at it this way. When I get up there, the great judge will say, ‘Where are your scars?’ And if I haven’t any, he will ask, ‘Were there no causes worthy of getting scars.'”

Arise like a lion and bear proudly the scars from a noble struggle.


The word describing the basket in which Moses is placed as an infant is “tevah,” the same word used to describe Noah’s ark. Many commentators draw the parallel between the man who saved the world and the man who saved the Jewish people.

But who made the ‘tevah’? In Noah’s case, he made it at God’s direction to save himself. But in Moses’ case, it was made by his mother at her own initiative. She fashioned a sort of ark, not to save herself, but to save her child. Moses is then rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter. Perhaps the story is less about Moses and more about mothers.

For many of us, our mother is the one who placed us in the vessel that enabled us to float out into the world. She gave the ark a gentle push, offering it direction. As Jocheved did with Moses, our mother is one who both anticipated the danger and prepared the container to shelter and bring her child to safe shores. Moses survived and grew up to instruct the world; but his accomplishment was only possible because before he was born, Jocheved sat in hiding, waiting for his birth and weaving a basket.


The sages of our tradition were very wary of anger. Rabbah, son of R. Huna, said: “When one loses his temper, even the Divine Presence is unimportant in his eyes” [Nedarim 22b]. While not denying the possibility that righteous anger can exist, repeatedly the Rabbis warn against anger, which is like a boiling pot that overspills and scalds everyone nearby. 

Anger exemplifies the wisdom of what Emerson teaches: “Our moods don’t believe each other.” We say things, and often do things, in anger that we would never do in calmer moments. Yet words spoken in anger cannot be recalled; forgiven perhaps, but rarely forgotten. Keeping a leash on our fury is one of the most important disciplines of character a human being can develop.

Anger arises within us but is like an invader, a force we do not control. We can learn to avoid reacting out of anger however, knowing that if we ‘count to 10’ our words will be wiser and truer to our deep character. Anger blots out the sun, even, as Rabbah teaches, the Divine Presence. Wait out the rage until the light streams back in and your life will be better in the coming year.