Live Prey

June 22, 2018 at 1:06 AM , , ,

“…Behold, a people that rises like a lioness, and raises itself like a lion…” – Bamidbar 23:24

הֶן עָם כְּלָבִיא יָקוּם וְכַאֲרִי יִתְנַשָּׂא – במדבר כג, כד

Bilaam compared the Jewish people to lions. As interpreted by the Midrash Tanchuma, this comparison hints to the vigor with which the Jewish people recite the Shema, like a lion pouncing on its prey. “They arise from their sleep like lions, seize the recitation of Shema and proclaim the Almighty’s kingship” (Tanchuma, Balak 14)

Why is the recitation of Shema compared to a lion’s attack on its prey, and not to any other animal’s?

Live Prey

The Shema begins with a declaration of G-d’s Oneness: “Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One.” Chassidus explains that, in essence, this means that everything in the world is an extension of the Divine energy that brings all of creation into being and continuously maintains its existence. It follows that even the yetzer hara, man’s selfish and negative inclination, is created by G-d for a G-dly purpose. The Shema therefore continues with the command to love Hashem, “with all your heart.” Our Sages (Mishna, Berachot 9:5) explain that this means that all of your hearts passions and desires, even those that stem from the yetzer hara, should be directed and harnessed toward your devoted service of G-d. In the words of Rav Yochanan (Talmud, Bava Metzia 84a), “Invest in Torah the very same energies that you used until now for wrongdoing!”

This explains why Bilaam compared the recitation of Shema to a lion seizing its prey. According to the Talmud (Bava Kama 16b), the lion eats its victim while it is still alive, unlike other animals that first kill their prey and then eat it. This is likewise the message of Shema: the ultimate service of G-d is not to drain the yetzer hara of its energy but to “eat it alive,” to absorb and channel its passion into your service of G-d.

—Igros Kodesh, vol. 1, pp. 156-157


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