> Spirituality > Personal Growth

Three Lessons from Our African Safari

August 23, 2015 | by Lori Palatnik

In the wilds of South Africa, I learned a lot about animals, and life.

I was recently asked to come to South Africa for a speaking tour, but being that it was our summer and our kids are not in school, I told them unless my family accompanied me, it would not be possible. They said we could all come “with pleasure.”

We traveled from Cape Town to Johannesburg, enjoying the warmth of these special Jewish communities.

The highlight was when they arranged for us to go on safari. Now, I love animals but hate zoos and circuses. Zoos are so depressing, viewing caged animals that belong in the wild, captured for our viewing pleasure. People have explained to me that it is educational, but for animal education I can simply watch a documentary. That poor animal should be let free.

Circuses are even worse. The poor animals are paraded around in tutus for our entertainment and their humiliation.

“We don’t feed them,” he answered. “They eat each other.”

The safari was incredible. You see animals in the wild, the way God had intended them to be. I asked our guide, “When do you feed them?”

“We don’t feed them,” he answered. “They eat each other.”

We were there for three days, and I learned a lot, not just about animals, but about life. Here are the three top lessons:

1. Real friendship does not mean being the same.

At one point, our open-air jeep stopped as a group of wildebeest was spotted. Our guide said that if these are wildebeest, zebra were surely not far behind. Sure enough, out came the zebra. Our guide explained that they are friends and always travel together.

Apparently the zebras have a strong sense of smell and eat the top of the grass, while the wildebeest have strong vision, and eat the bottom of the grass. Together they are not only nutritionally compatible, but are able to combine their strengths and are able to quickly sense danger from roaming predators.

The Hebrew word “chaver”, friend, comes from the root ‘to join.’ Friendship is not to be taken lightly (as opposed to our hundreds of Facebook “friends”). People often mistake acquaintances for friends. Acquaintances are relationships based on circumstances or mutual interests: our kids go to the same school; we both like to swim; we work together. How do we know it is not a friendship? Because once the circumstances or interests change, then the “friendship” goes away.

A real friend is not a mutually building up society (Ed McMahon to Johnny Carson), one person constantly helping the other (that is called therapy), we both like to gossip (co-dependency), or we belong to the same gym (relationship based on circumstance). A real friend is a relationship where we both grow from one another, that together we can become greater, can accomplish more, and truly realize our potential.

The wildebeest and zebra have many enemies in the wild, but are friends so that both could survive and thrive.

2. We need to break through the fences of our youth.

We were accompanied on safari by two wonderful couples who help run Hatzolah of South Africa, the emergency response organization that is responsible for saving many lives within the Jewish community. Even though they are “locals”, they and their families love “the bush” and have been on safari countless times.

Lance, the CEO of Hatzolah, told us that at Kruger National Park, the biggest game preserve in all of South Africa, a place many times the size of Israel, there are fences to keep the animals within the park. These fences are not too high and most need not be electrically fortified, even though the animals grow way beyond the size of the fence and could easily topple it.

Apparently the baby elephant will naturally try to escape, but since it is small, it tries but realizes it doesn’t stand a chance. And even though it will grow to be a size and weight that could crash through, it learned as a child that the fence is impassable, so as a huge adult, it will never try again.

How many of us are like that elephant? We attempt things in our youth and decide they are far too difficult or we are somehow incapable of that accomplishment. Although we have gained years of wisdom and life experience, we still remain confined to those fences.

My friend, Sarah Chana Radcliffe, a psychologist and prolific writer from Toronto, taught me years ago that in parenting, “labels disable”. If you or a teacher tell your child that they are “stupid”, “lazy”, “clumsy”, “slow”, then that child will only rise to the level of the low bar you have set for them.

Through life we have labeled ourselves or accepted labels that others have imposed upon us. We have created a small compound that we are afraid of breaking out of.

Think about the fences we have erected in our lives, the ones that are holding us back from realizing our true potential. You are wiser, stronger and can be bolder than you were before. Perhaps it is time to reconsider a goal and truly break through.

3. You are seen.

At one point on safari, the jeep stopped in the middle of the road to point out three Coqui Franklin birds. They are short little round birds, about half the size of a chicken, and they were crossing the road as slow as slow can be. The guide said that if they were going any slower, they would be going backwards!

He explained that they are actually very frightened of the jeep and of us, and although they can travel very quickly, they think that by going ever so slow, they cannot be seen.

It reminded me of the time when I was playing hide-and-seek with my three year old. I was counting and she was supposed to hide. She went against the closest wall and faced it. She thought that if she couldn’t see me, then I couldn’t see her.

We are now in the month of Elul, and the rabbis quote from Proverbs, “When the lion roars, who will not fear…”

The Hebrew word for Lion is Aryeh—the letters aleph, raish, yud and hay. The rabbis tell us that this is the message for this important time of year, the weeks that lead us into the High Holy Days. When should we be taking our relationship with God seriously and clearing up our mistakes? For those who are wise, they begin with aleph, for Elul. They begin right now.

For those who are not as wise, they wait for raish, Rosh Hashanah. For those less connected, it is yud, Yom Kippur. And for the stragglers, the ones who cram at the last minute, it is hay, for Hoshana Raba, the end of Sukkot when all nations are judged.

This is the time of year when we are supposed to wake up, stop hiding from the Almighty, and realize that He sees us each and every day. He loves us and wants us to put our mistakes behind us.

The Palatniks would like to thank Hatzolah of South Africa for giving us this fantastic experience. We wish you and your beautiful community a year of health, safety and prosperity.

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