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Hyraxes vs. Hamas
How small furry animals highlight Hamas' mistake
Hamas has inflicted horrific damage upon Israel. And it is far from over. But they are making some crucial mistakes. The always excellent Haviv Rettig-Gur, in The Times of Israel, spells out one of them - that they have underestimated Israeli resolve, and caused Israel to unite in understanding that Hamas is not interested in Palestinian independence, only in brutality against Israel, and they cannot be tolerated. But there is also another mistake, relating to a small furry animal that we mentioned in davenning this morning.
Hamas’ strategy is based on the belief that we are European colonialists. Palestinian propaganda is fundamentally based around this, which is why they even deny the existence of the Temple. When life becomes too difficult for colonialists, they return back to their country of origin. And so they are convinced that this is what will happen to us.
But this morning, being that it is Rosh Chodesh, we recited Psalms 104, Barchi Nafshi, which is a paean to God’s world of nature. Jews have recited this psalm for thousands of years. Yet for many centuries, they had difficulty translating one of the verses. It’s a verse that is presented as the highlight of the tour at the Biblical Museum of Natural History:
“The high hills are for the wild goats, the rocks are a refuge for shefanim.”
What are these shefanim? The word is usually translated as referring to rabbits. But rabbits don’t hide in rocks! They hide in burrows under the earth.
When we present this problem to our American visitors, they struggle to guess what these shefanim might be. But every Israeli knows exactly what they are. Because every Israeli knows exactly what King David had in mind when he composed this verse. They might not know that he specifically spent hiding from his enemies among the wild goats in Ein Gedi (I Samuel 24:1-2), but they certainly know that Ein Gedi is the scene being described.
Ein Gedi, literally “the wellspring of the goat,” is named after the wild goats, more accurately known as ibex (yael), which are prominently seen climbing the steep cliffs there. The ibex is extremely distinctive for its enormous, sweeping ridged horns, which is why we adopted it as the symbol for the museum. And the precise habitat of Ein Gedi, with its vegetation and rocky terrain, is also perfect for hyraxes.
These small furry animals superfically resemble groundhogs, though they are actually more closely related to elephants! They are not rodents; they have rubbery feet rather than paws with claws, and they cannot dig. With no defenses against predators such as jackals and eagles, and no ability to dig burrows, they live in areas which have an abundance of rocks beneath which they can seek refuge.
While we often have to spell out our central message to our visitors, they all end up intuitively grasping its truth. The animals that form our cultural heritage - the ibex and hyraxes that we mention in Barchi Nafshi, the lion and gazelle and leopard and griffon vulture that are famously mentioned in the Mishnah and have adorned synagogues for centuries - are not animals from Europe. They are animals from the Land of Israel, the land of our national birthplace.
It’s not just that, as Golda Meir famously said to Joe Biden, we have nowhere else to go. The Land of Israel is our ancestral home. Colonialists give up. Indigenous natives do not. We are here to stay.
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