Friday, April 20, 2007

Who's afraid of a rhinoceros?

I took my children to the Pilaneseberg Game Park the other day. Out in the wild, you get to spend quality time as you try spot the various animal and bird species.

It was relaxed and we chatted, joked, sang. Only one dark cloud hung over this exciting excursion: The Rhino.

Lions, elephants and leopards- we could handle all of them. In fact, we couldn’t wait to catch a glimpse of the Big Five. Well, actually the Big Four, because nobody wanted to encounter a Rhino.

The more they protested, the more I wanted to encounter Rhino- at close range.

Last time we had visited the same park, our bright red minivan raised the ire of a protective mother rhino. She charged, the kids panicked, I screeched off.

We got out of there with plenty time to spare, but the children remained traumatized. So, we needed to see Rhino, to normalize the Safari experience in the minds of my overly imaginative kids.

Then it happened. My eight-year-old daughter asked the question: “Why must we be scared of Hashem?”

Apparently, with all the talk of fears, this one had surfaced in her mind.

It reminded me of a ridiculous story I once heard. There was a deeply religious man who encountered the Torah’s commandment to “fear G-d”. Not sure how to achieve this, he turned to an equally observant, but rather superficial colleague for advice.

“This is how I do it,” the latter began, “I imagine a large, powerful, temperamental bull. Then, I picture that bull charging at me. I have a pretty good imagination, and it actually scares me to visualize this scene. At that point, I tell myself: ‘G-d is larger and more powerful than any bull I can imagine’. For me, that’s enough to fear Him.”

I told my daughter that the word “scared” isn’t the right word for Hashem. You could be scared of a rhino, because you imagine it might harm you. But, there’s no need to be scared of G-d. He is kind, gracious and interested in our wellbeing.

“Fear” of G-d is pointless, “awe” is appropriate. When you perceive His infinite greatness, and consider that He still takes an interest in you, you should be overawed. You should worry that perhaps you have not been giving Him all you can, considering He gives you all you have.

I’d like to think she understood, but we didn’t get to finish the conversation. We ran into a group of rhinos.


Dave ( Balashon) said...

I read recently that hippos are the most dangerous animal to man in Africa. Did you encounter them as well?

Rabbi S said...

That's correct, but that's mainly people in boats or at night, when hippos travel by land (and are difficult to spot).

We normally get to see many hippos (only enountered them once at night so far). This time we only saw one...