Sunday, December 15, 2013

Chabad gone ape

"Are there lions walking the streets?"

Whenever they'd ask me that on my teenage travels abroad, I'd solemnly nod and describe the daily peril of picking our way through the jungle to get to school. Recently, my kids sent photos to their cousins from a safari our family had taken. They captioned the pic of a herd of elephants standing on a dirt road "Reason we were late for school today".

Our family's playful teasing about wild encounters have been peppered with real first-person adventures in SA's various game parks. Our family has been charged by a rhino, driven in an open Land Rover through a massive herd of African Buffaloes, and has screeched off in reverse to avoid a head-on with a temperamental bull elephant. Those escapades had all occurred miles from home on safari. Joburg's streets hadn't threatened our kids with much more than panhandlers and annoying windscreen-washers.

Until Friday.

It wasn't a lion or lumbering elephant on Linden road, but we did have a very real and very scary visit from the wild.

Friday was the fast of Tevet, when Jews recall the first time enemy armies- the Babylonians- surrounded the walls of Jerusalem. As our community members began to arrive for the special afternoon fast-day service, an uninvited visitor pranced onto the wall of our temple.

I missed the action, which I'm quite miffed about, but an adult baboon arrived at our Chabad House, just in time for Mincha. (In future, I intend to be much more cautious about broadcasting that we need "one more for the minyan").

My seven- and eleven-year-old daughters were downstairs in the function hall, preparing for Shabbos. I was upstairs in Shul, preparing for the afternoon service. I didn't know my daughters were downstairs, they didn't know I was upstairs- and none of us knew there was a primate scaling the wall.

My daughters enjoy animals- from a very safe distance. A whimpering chihuahua would send them scampering for safety. You can only imagine their terror when a fully grown baboon leaped into the parking lot.

The girls panicked.

The baboon panicked more.

In seconds, the ape had run across our property, clambered over a wall and disappeared.

I was quietly studying the Torah portion upstairs in Shul, oblivious. By the time I became aware of the commotion, it was over. Our family spent the rest of the afternoon between Shabbos preparation, ad hoc trauma debriefing and informing all those cousins overseas that we really do have wild animals in the 'burbs.

Two days later, my kids are still wary of stepping outside alone (the baboon has yet to be caught and returned to the wild) and I've been mulling over the lessons to be gleaned from such an unusual experience.

Firstly, I was struck by the situation my children had found themselves in: Their ordinary day had rapidly shifted into a terrifying confrontation. They had panicked and had felt vulnerable and unequipped to tackle the problem. Yet, all along, their father had been upstairs. A good lesson in life: Whenever you experience a anxiety or an overwhelming challenge, remember you've got a father upstairs. You only need to do be aware that he is there and let him know that you're in trouble.

Next, I wondered what had brought the baboon to Shul. My community over Shabbos unanimously replied that it could only have been the food; he certainly would not have come for the sermon. They weren't far off, because it seems that the bewildered baboon had been scavenging through the trash for food. (Nobody had informed him it was a fast day).

Chabad philosophy teaches that we each have a "Divine" soul and an "Animal" Soul. While the "Animal" only relates to and chases things it believes will bring it benefit, the "Divine" within us inspires us to be transcendent and altruistic.

Impure or negative energy, when compared to holy or positive energy, is described as an ape compared to a human. Apes look quite human (it's amusing to watch primate families interact, because they look so familiar) and share a whole lot of our DNA. But, they don't have the capacity to shift their nature, use abstract imagination or to experience altruism. Old baboon couldn't stay at Shul, even if he had wanted to, because to be part of the community, you need to be a giver, not a scavenger.

Lastly- and my daughters do not believe me on this one- the ape was more afraid of the girls than they were of him. A group of my friends and I were once hiking in the Drakensberg mountains when a troop of territorial baboons cut us off and began threatening us. Initially, we thought they'd move aside and let us pass, but when they kept inching forward and started baring their menacing incisors, we backed down and returned home. An adult human is no match for an adult baboon.

But, this guy wasn't in his natural habitat; he was lost in our neighbourhood. He was disoriented and afraid and he darted at the hint of a wide-eyed girl's scream. Which is a good lesson too. Humans need to live in civilized areas if they are to be protected from the forces of the wild. And that means spiritually too. If you make sure to live in a spiritually healthy environment, the feral forces can't harm you. But, if you wander into a spiritually unruly area, you can't be guaranteed your safety.

Simply put: Come to Shul regularly, the vilde chayos won't bother you here.

1 comment:

Peter De Grathios Vinka said...

Excellent very very dobroh By letting our G_D soul rule our animal soul wil become less and les in control and Hashem will King