By Rabbi Aaron I. Reichel, Esq.

The daf yomi of Baba Kama 116 discusses some very dangerous scenarios, but still gives us hope that one day the wolf will live with the sheep (Isaiah 11:6). (Note: Non-Jews substitute a lion for a wolf in their “New Testament,” and a lamb for a sheep, but the language in Isaiah is pretty clear.)

Caravans have always been fraught with danger (except, perhaps, for caravans organized to advance political agendas).

The Talmud (Baba Kama 116b) dealt with a caravan traveling through a desert, when an organized group of bandits “stood over it” in order to attack and pillage it. Were the victims concerned about their lives? Not according to the Talmud. The only discussion there was how to calculate contributions to the ransom demanded—according to the respective sum of money each traveler was carrying and not per capita. The bandits, apparently, were very practical, and were not interested in the lives, the religions, or even the souls of their victims.

Then the Talmud discusses a scenario where such travelers hired some kind of professional to travel in front of them, not merely to show them the way and to lead the way, but also to be the first to face any adversity, and to fight off danger before it would reach them. Once again, all they seemed concerned about was how to pay for their protection, this time on a per capita basis, based on the number of souls saved.

In both cases, they don’t seem to have been worried about being killed, as long as they came up with the necessary funding.

But on the same page (actually, 116a), there is a discussion of an incident that defies being read literally as much as any story recounted anywhere in the Talmud. Rav Safra was traveling in a caravan, and a lion accompanied them, without any reference to any leash (not that it would have helped) or cage (not that it could have enabled the lion to affirmatively accompany them). From the context, rabbis interpreting this passage today refer to the lion as a “friendly” lion protecting the caravan from external danger, by some kind of an informal agreement that challenges the imagination more than any other. According to this agreement, the travelers would send one of their donkeys to the lion for its evening dinner, and the lion would routinely eat the donkey and continue to protect the travelers from any external harm. The rabbis of the Talmud concerned themselves with the ownership of the lucky donkey on the single occasion when the lion didn’t eat a donkey. The participants themselves, however, at that point, might have been even more concerned about their own safety, then being accompanied by a hungry lion accustomed to eating a whole donkey every night, that didn’t eat its usual meal on this particular night.

Note with tongue in cheek—not with donkey in mouth. If it could have been of any consolation to relieve the travelers the next morning of any conjectured concern they may have had, the commentators known as Tosfos on the spot observe that it is possible the lion didn’t feel hungry enough to eat a whole donkey every night. Small consolation, though, considering that a) the language of the Talmud gives no indication of an exception to the rule of one donkey per meal, or per night, on the menu, b) a human might have made a perfectly satisfactory meal if there was inadequate appetite for a whole donkey, and c) none of the travelers were in a position—or a century—to have read that Tosfos, let alone the donkey!

Somehow what piques my interest about this more than anything else is how the king of the jungle, symbolizing ferocity more than any other animal—or at least as much—could have possibly been relied on for protection, let alone could have reached an understanding about guardianship and payment for it. True, this incident in the Talmud can theoretically be literal; circus animals can be trained, but they would normally need a professional trainer, 24 hours a day, in shifts, and controlled conditions of a circus, at all times, to be relied on. Nevertheless, this whole incident as set forth in the Talmud leads me to conclude that if there is hope for reaching an agreement with a lion and for not fearing it for so many obvious reasons, there is hope for a post-war Hamas—or what will be left of it, if anything—to become fundamentally different from its current status, so that Israelis may somehow be able to make a realistic deal with a reformed Hamas or its successors to the extent they can be relied upon. (Or is this prospect even more fanciful than anything else?)

There is a “son of Hamas” (name of a book as well)—Mosab Hassan Yousef (aka “the Green Prince”)—who is a son of Hamas co-founder Sheikh Hassan Yousef. This rebellious son defected to Israel, worked for the Shin Bet, and had no trouble ultimately being accepted in the United States for political asylum. He was long considered Israel’s most valuable source of information within Hamas, and he continues to say all the “right” things now whenever he is interviewed.

Some Hamas soldiers have already decided during the current war not to fight to the death but to voluntarily surrender; other members of Hamas have been known to urge their leaders to put an end to the agony on both sides. If the king of the jungle can serve as a guard for the people in a caravan, and if the “son of Hamas” can do so much good on behalf of Israel and humanity, let us hope there is reason to believe that the remaining heads of Hamas—or at least the rank and file—can eventually learn to live in peace, and even to promote peaceful coexistence, for the betterment of Jew and Arab alike.

Caveat: Although the record of Hamas does not exactly show many, if any, precedents for trustworthiness to Israel, the U.S., the West, any other country or region, in general—or even among themselves sometimes—and although their “concessions” in the past were more likely based on expedience than character that can be relied on, and although animals do not lie or have the kind of hatred based on misrepresentations that many humans have, the example of the “son of Hamas” seems to show that it is possible for a member of Hamas, and even a “prince” of Hamas, to actually have a change of heart, to become a role model for good, to be relied upon, if even by the Shin Bet, and to maintain his reliability over time. If the war ends the way we hope it will, we can hope there will be more sunshine on the horizon and more sons interested in a bright future for all.


The writer of this peace-oriented piece is a son of Rabbi Dr. O. Asher Reichel, OBM, who seeks to follow his father’s footsteps, and a grandson and biographer of Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein, DD, OBM, aka, posthumously, The Maverick Rabbi.


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