the emblem of Jerusalem

We human beings see ourselves reflected in all living things… primarily in animals, but in plants and flowers too. The symbol of my beloved Jerusalem is the lion of Judah, going back to the days when our capital was established on the seam between the tribal lands of Judah and Benjamin by King David. Our sages used to say, it is better to be the tail of a lion than the head of a fox. When I was young, you could still encounter the big cats outside of the city. You don’t see them anymore. They have disappeared in the face of modern civilization.


And though I identify with the cats, I have always had a special fondness for frogs and butterflies because they appear on this earth in their second incarnation. I saw them as a promise to those who wish to build themselves beyond the circumstances in which they were born. The frog is first a pollywog, and the butterfly starts out as a worm. The case of the swan is more an allegory than a reincarnation. He wasn’t really an ugly duckling. It was just the ducks who thought so.

fleet footed

But when reaching for fulfillment, there’s no taking it easy. The higher we want to go, the more we have to be prepared for the depths. There’s a balance in this world between pain and pleasure. But there’s also blind luck that doesn’t make sense to our logical minds. Lions and elephants are born to be big. They don’t have to crawl on the ground like a worm before spreading their wings, and soaring through the air. And there are some artists too, who are born with the promise in their eyes. All they have to do is learn their tools, and play those rough cat games in their youth. Of course, they too have their share of pain, and humility… left alone at times, beaten, scratched and slapped. It’s all a part of growing up. And woe to the cat who indulges in self pity, or seeks out consolation for the traumas he’s had.

aching for life
aching for life

Woe to the pollywog who found it so hard to be a little fish in the big pond that he didn’t want to grow up ever… We live in the age of compassion, of special needs, of nurturing… Wild animals have been hounded to death, and our garden hedges look like well manicured poodles. Every handicap has been categorized and is compensated for by the big mama of social services. Still, the wails resonate in the halls of learning these days. Though the sad sacks are given wheel chairs, and the confused are given multiple choices, despair floats in all directions like low hanging clouds that block the view. Don’t look for sympathy, my children. Don’t look for instant pleasures, eating till your bellies drag along the floor. Better to be a lean cat with sharp nails trained and tested on the acacia tree than a fat pig, grateful for his good life, and unknowingly on the path to slaughter.

father and son

The artist, the poet, and the musician labor long hours striving for perfection… for a straight line, for an effervescent color, for a rhyme that won’t be confused with a knee jerk, for the whisper of infinity on the horizon. He doesn’t look for breaks or for presents, or for recognition or fame, nor for honor or love. The true reward doesn’t come as prizes or compliments from sycophants. Forget the awards. The only reward worth knowing is personal satisfaction.

sweet grapes


73 responses to “reward

  1. Compelling post, Shimon.

  2. Beautiful, so beautiful. Thank you dear Shimon, Blessing and happiness, love, nia

  3. The only reward worth knowing is personal satisfaction… never a truer word spoken !
    Another enjoyable post Shimon – many thanks.


  4. Wonderful! I couldn’t agree more, personal satisfaction is everything!
    How amazing to think you had big cats in the area and how heartbreaking to think they have been driven out…that seems to be the same worldwide, mankind struggles to share the environment with other animals….
    I love the frog and I too have a special fondness for frogs and butterflies, I can’t get over how they totally transform themselves.
    Your fleetfooted cat is a beauty!
    Ah yes….highs and lows, pain and pleasure, how well you speak of them.
    This is a beautiful and poetic post, what a delightful way you have with words! xxx

    • Thanks very much, Dina. Aren’t they wonderful, the frogs? You know sometimes, I just get an overdose of ‘positive thinking’, and worry that the younger generation might be led to believe that desire is enough. So this was a sort of ‘back to basics’ post. xxx

  5. Oh, I loved this post….it speaks to me in so many ways. First the cat, of course, and the egg installation….frog, lion, father and son…fruit in the basket…everything feeds my senses – only creature missing is Nechame.
    I dislike social services and everything it stands for intensely… that’s out of the way….I agree no self pity, no sympathy….just the pure joy of work and the self satisfaction it brings. Love you Shimon….have a wonderful weekend and please give Nechame a hug from me. x

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed it, my dear Janet. As for Nechama, she is doing really well, and amuses herself for long periods watching what’s going on in the street below us. But she also likes the park and has been having a great time. I know we share a lot of the same basics… and sometimes, when I’ve run into a bucket of politically correct comments, I feel the need for a reminder that work has more to offer than immediate gratification. xxx

  6. Excellent reminder. Thank you, Shimon.

  7. Excellent Post. Forces us to examine our inner selves and reflect .

    • Very glad you enjoyed it Barbara. Though most people know it anyway, occasionally it has to be said that life is more than a trip to Disneyland.

  8. Wonderful pictures. Sadly, I spent most of my life looking for how to make my life easier. I’m hopeful it isn’t too late to change.

    • I understand that when people have had it hard at the beginning, there’s this need for relaxation and recuperation. I too had a very difficult childhood. But understanding that life is given to us on loan, it’s really worthwhile to go all the way, at some stage, and test our inner fiber. Thanks very much for your comment, Judy. I appreciate it.

  9. You are a true poet in this post, Shimon! And I totally agree with you (“The only reward worth knowing is personal satisfaction”).

  10. Your posts are always a big pleasure because it’s so good to know that there is still intelligence in the world. By the way, have there really been lions around Jerusalem when you were young? Greetings to your cat, regards Mitza

    • We still had wild tigers who made their home in the country till about 25 years ago. People would recognize them by name. But unfortunately, the modern life style, 4 wheel drive vehicles, and too many people around, made life too difficult for them. Thanks for your comment, Taphian.

      • Shimon, are you joking? Tigers and lions in Israel? In the zoo, maybe? I’ve lived there for a year in the 70ies but never saw such animals, even not in the Negev. Regards Mitza

        • Not joking at all. I don’t know where you were living in the negev. But we knew quite a few by name, and were aware of their relationships… who was the son or daughter of whom… and who was going with whom. There were similarities to the street cats that now live in Jerusalem…

  11. I love the animals you have chosen to identify with, because of the transformation they make. And you make such a good point about being born an elephant with the advantage of size and strength. There is a saying–anyone who thinks the small cannot make a difference has never spent the night in a room with a mosquito!

    • You’re so right about the mosquito, Naomi. And actually, there are a lot of little creatures that are truly powerful, and more successful in surviving the trespasses of man than the big animals. But in referring to the animals, I was also trying to use them as a parable for the affairs of man. Always a pleasure to hear from you.

  12. I did not know that lions were native in Israel. Thank for sharing your wisdom and artistry in this wonderful post, Shimon.

    • Yes, we had lions and tigers here long before we saw them in Zoos. But modern technology has been very injurious to the privacy of large animals. Very glad you enjoyed the post, Cathy.

  13. Such wise words, Shimon. Your writing is so compelling. I always enjoy my visits here. 🙂

  14. “I saw them as a promise to those who wish to build themselves beyond the circumstances in which they were born.”

    I’ve always been moved by butterflies – delicate, fleeting, and beautiful.

    • It seems I’ve only recently begun learning how to be hungry again. Now I’ve been questioning which hunger is the one to feed, and which to starve.

      • One of my greatest teachers advised, eat till you’re not hungry anymore, but don’t eat till your full. Sometimes we get into the swing of satisfying hunger, and we go too far, and regret it afterwards. I think the best method is to take small portions, and then take a break before asking for more… and believe me N, I’m not just talking about food. Appreciate your comment. It is always very good to see you.

  15. We learn as we grow older that it is the little things that count in life. To be pleased with life as it is, that is the optimum goal.

  16. There lies my quandary. I’m satisfied in my work, yet currently lack the hunger to really take advantage of it.

    Beautiful words, as always, Shimon.

    • There are many different levels of relating to the world around us, Bill. At times we can reach a state of exchanging nods with our environment. One of the things I’ve always liked about cats, is that they usually eat what they need, and then will often leave what remains of the food to others. Thanks so much for the comment.

  17. That’s very true. I see that in teaching everyday. You might not get the recognition that you deserve, but deep in your heart, you know you’ve done a good job and you’re happy with your efforts and achievements, even though it might not be officially recognised or rewarded.

    • Hi there Fatima. I’ve done some teaching myself, and sometimes when I was just able to help one person overcome a roadblock, I felt truly rewarded. But the greatest pleasure was when I myself learned right along with my students, and amazingly, that happened quite often. Thanks so much for the comment.

  18. Thank God I am a fish not a pig

    • Hi cool fish. Would you be a gold fish by chance, or one of those sharks in the deep waters?

      • I’m a sardine that escaped from the tin

      • Tinned sardines which came back to life were a symbol of transfiguration in a story I read as a young person but it is not very poetic compared to a butterfly.I love your frog too.In Spain they sing quite loudly on wells in the hillsides..I expect they might do the same in your country as it’s hot enough to have the special big frogs which court and sing in the heat..we only have small ones here.
        You were filled with creative fire writing here.:)

        • Yes CW, I have often enjoyed the songs of frogs, though we don’t hear them much in the city. Thanks for your explanation of the tinned sardines. That does sound like a story of hope. And thanks for your kind words regarding my writing.

  19. As I head out to the gardens with my trowel and camera, I couldn’t have had a better companion or source of inspiration than your images and words, Shimon. My art is all about communing with my God, who is all/everywhere, and when I look to others for direction and/or praise rather than to my own heart/spirit’s sense of completion, joy, and satisfaction, I end up feeling distanced from my original inspiration…if that makes any sense. I like the imagery of cats, Judah’s Lion, as a motivation to stay true to my own vision. I saw this poem today today, a translation of Rilke, that this post echoes, or touches upon, in a way:

    Let Everything Happen

    God speaks to each of us as s/he makes us,
    then walks with us silently out of the night.

    These are the words we dimly hear:
    You, sent out beyond your recall,
    go to the limits of your longing.
    Embody me.
    Flare up like flame
    and make big shadows I can move in.

    Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
    Just keep going. No feeling is final.
    Don’t let yourself lose me.
    Nearby is the country they call life.
    You will know it by its seriousness.

    Give me your hand.

    ~ Rainer Maria Rilke
    Source: Book of Hours: Love Poems to God (translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy)

    Thank you, Shimon…I’m especially touched by the picture of the eggs in what looks a bit like a prison cell…your words marry the images so beautifully!

    • Oh, how wonderful it is to go to work, equipped with a camera as well as a trowel, Kitty, and I do love your beautiful pictures. To me, your art is an ongoing song of appreciation, and you bring me great joy. Thank you very much for adding Rilke’s poem to this post, for I worried this time that maybe the message might sound too stern to some of my readers. So it was good to get some support from the great poet, who told it the way it is. Thank you so much.

  20. One way or another, Shimon, your posts are always a wake-up call. Process and change, and out with complacency.

    • Thank you so much, Tish. You know, I pinch myself from time to time, just to insure that I’m awake… and in the spirit of the blogosphere, try to share with others too.

  21. How strange, Norway’s coat of arms is the same lion as the emblem of Jerusalem, and we certainly never had any lions around. Origin from around 1280:
    Personally I identify most with dogs and horses, but I love all creatures.

    • I read the entire page in wikipedia, after following the link you gave me here, but strangely, it doesn’t give the origins of that image and what it was that connected Norway to that image. But yes, different people connect with different animals, and dogs and horses are very popular. Horses especially, have been very influenced by human culture and influence.

  22. no wonder the spirit of the Lion lives within your heart.
    makes sense.

  23. Wow. My death in the family almost caused me to miss this and I would haver REally been hurt. You really let loose the cannons of words.
    The balance between pain and pleasure struck a cord…I had just received the post-op therapy on my rotator cuff…and it really hurt…and I recalled…The masochist said “Hurt me, Hurt Me” and the sadist said “No!…..Suffer!!”
    What is the structure the child is on in the father and son image.
    Did you set up that room with eggs and white paper? Fascinating!
    And finally…as with musicians and poets…are some (damn few) surgeons, who don’t do it for the money, but for personal satisfaction. Believe me.
    Be well Shimon!

    • I send you my condolences on the death in the family, Bob. Recently, I’ve been having so much going on in my life here, that I seem to be falling back on correspondence. Please forgive me. I liked that interchange between masochist and sadist. The structure you mention seems to me to be an igloo made of stone. It seems to be a rather popular structure here, and when it snows, a lot of people build snow igloos. And I do believe that there are doctors and surgeons whose work is much like art, and whose motivations are most noble. I’ve even had the pleasure of meeting some of them. Rampant commercialism may encourage cynicism. But the noble spirit of man (and woman) is stubborn. Thanks very much for your comment, my friend.

  24. Oh, what a beautiful post! I feel like this resonated with me a lot. I love that picture of the eggs in the room! Something in particular just really grabbed me about it.

    How we shape our claws is important. They shape our ability to tackle things, as well as likes and dislikes in general. Sometimes our claws are taken from us, and we must take them back with our paws. Consolation is important sometimes, I think. But there does come a certain point where licking our wounds does no further service to us – that is as clean as we can make the wound for now, and we just have to let time do the rest. In the meantime, we tread not carelessly, but not totally restricted. If we have a wound and don’t move the limb at all, it becomes weak.

    As for me, I identify with cats and dragonflies. Dragonflies are a wonderful symbol of transcendence, and they too undergo a transformation. I remember as a child, we had a giant trampoline in our back yard. There was more than one occasion in the summer afternoons – just before the sun set and the mosquitoes would come out and feed – that I would lay on there, and watch the dragonflies fly up high, in swarms, in the same direction, all with purpose. Sadly it’s not something I see these days, and I miss it. The dragonfly is a symbol that keeps on popping up in my life time and time again, by coincidence, until I realised it.

    Lions are also beautiful symbols. 🙂

    • Yes, those of us who’ve been wounded have to work very hard to find a new balance in our lives. As you say, when we’ve been declawed, we have to make do with our paws, and it doesn’t work for everything. Thank you so much, Jess, for pointing me towards Dragonflies. I was familiar with them before your comment, and loved their ability to fly in all directions. But it was only after your comment that I started reading about their life cycle. And I can see that they are a true inspiration. We have so much to learn in this world, and I thank you so much Jess, for leading me to more understanding. I’m so glad you liked the post.

      • You are very welcome! 😀 Dragonflies are very underrated, I find. I am glad my comment is useful to you; I love how an anecdote can add meaning. 🙂

  25. I sure hope that you have young people in your life to mentor.. The youth of today can use wise teachers, like you…

    • I’m retired now, but when I was working full time, I had a business, and a number of very enjoyable occupations. And among my activities, I found great enjoyment in teaching at the college level. Since then, many old students stay in touch, and some of my students have become teachers themselves. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting my students’ students, and together with my actual grandchildren, I do have the sense that some of what I believe has been passed along. Thank you very much for your kind comment, Mother Hen.

      • Hi Shimon, thank you for sharing this! I was not always an attentive student, but I do believe you would have captured my attention in this school of life..Stay well my friend!

  26. The egg photograph is superb. I like this post.

  27. Love the hatching eggs!

    • Very glad you enjoyed that picture, Barbara. It was produced as an example of conceptual art. But I know that you have a real connection to eggs, and it pleases me to know you liked the work.

  28. Shimon, I saved you as a ‘favourite’ in June last year and honestly, I have to tell you that I love your your posts, they entertain, give pleasure, make me think; they never disappoint. It’s nice that you think that we too can metamorphose into something more beautiful if we are prepared to do the work. Lovely.

    • Thank you so much for your kind words, Mary. I do believe that life is a great adventure. And that even when we have certain handicaps or difficulties at one stage or another, we can find alternative paths to really celebrate and realize our potential in this world. For me, learning and hard work have always been the keys to happiness, and I try to share some of what I’ve learned along the way with my friends.

  29. how sad, all those eggs in that sterile room and no hen waiting to greet the new born.

    • I can understand your sadness at this sight, Marit. But in this case, the eggs were meant as food for thought. Thank you very much for your comment.


    You’ve given me something to think about, a rare gift in a world full of blogging fluff. When you were young lions still roamed Israel?

    • Thanks for your comment, transformsiberia. When I was young, I saw some big cats, but didn’t really know how to get close enough to really get to know them. By the time I did, I saw tigers but no lions. It could be that lions were wiped out earlier…

  31. We all seem to have a feeling of inadequacy in our younger years, but the talents that lay hidden within each of us often wait for later in life before they spread their wings.

    • It is so good when those talents come to flower… sometimes it takes quite a while… and other times, by the time we bow to the applause, everyone’s already forgotten what it was that they liked… Thanks so much for your comment…

  32. I am late in getting to this post, Shimon, but I enjoyed it immensely. I always learn something new from you and am challenged to think more deeply. I especially enjoy the proverb: Better to be a lean cat with sharp nails trained and tested on the acacia tree than a fat pig, grateful for his good life, and unknowingly on the path to slaughter. I wonder if someone is cutting down all the acacia trees to make troughs these days.

    • Thank you so much for liking anything I write, my dear yearstricken… and how fitting it is that after you apologized for being late to comment on this post, I didn’t get around to answering you for about a half a year. But believe me, it wasn’t intentional. I was just on my way for cigarettes, and got distracted… and now here it is, February. I must be a fool in paradise.

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