I am intrigued by the role of the lion in Judaism. On the one hand, it’s not kosher. But on the other, it seems to represent holy concepts. One, for example, is the Tribe of Judah. Can you please explain?
It is correct that the lion is not kosher, as is the case with many animals whose ferocious or predatory nature opposes Jewish values which we must refrain from ingesting within our personalities.
That being said, the lion does have characteristics which may be harnessed and emulated for good.
We see this principle in an interesting discussion of the Talmud (Sanhedrin 64a) which describes how, in preparation for the rebuilding of the Temple, the Sages and Prophets gathered with the intention of nullifying the evil inclination for idolatry. The result was that a lion of fire was seen leaping out of the Holy of Holies. This lion was initially associated with the obviously negative drive for foreign worship.
However, it becomes clear from the continuation of the Gemora that there is no specific drive for idolatry (or for other transgressions either), but rather a drive to worship that can be channeled for good to worship G‑d, or for bad and idolatry. Thus, the fiery lion’s release from the Holy of Holies indicates that the powerful drive for spirituality, naturally residing in the spiritual focal point of the world, was dissipated. The result was that if idolatry was greatly nullified, so was the drive to serve G‑d.
This establishes the afore-mentioned idea that even though the lion is not kosher, it symbolizes qualities which, when channeled properly, may be harnessed for spiritual good.
Examples of this include the teaching of the sages in Pirkei Avot (5:20) that one should be strong as a lion to do the will of G‑d, as well as the one you mention that the symbol for the tribe of Judah, from which the King of Israel issued as well as from which Mashiach will emerge, is the king of the animals – the lion.
The Talmud (Berachot 3a) teaches that there are three spiritual divisions or dimensions to the night referred to as “watches”. During each watch G‑d roars like a lion bemoaning the destruction of the Temple saying, “Woe is to the children who on account of their sins I destroyed My house, burned My sanctuary and exiled them among the nations of the world”.
Each watch of the night is described by a specific sign. The first watch is symbolized by a donkey braying, the second by dogs screaming and the third by a baby suckling and by intimacy between husband and wife. Since G‑d roars like a lion on account of the Temple during these three watches, it appears that there is a connection between the three Temples and the signs given for the three periods of the night.
The First Temple was destroyed on account of three cardinal sins: idolatry, immorality and murder. This corresponds to the first part of the night where donkey is “chamor” in Hebrew which also means materialism and refers to the low and earthy state of the Jews which resulted in the destruction of the First Temple.
The Second Temple was destroyed on account of baseless hatred. This corresponds to the second part of the night where dogs screaming refers to the brazen, dog-eat-dog attitude Jews had for each other which resulted in the destruction of the Second Temple.
The Third and everlasting Temple will be built in the merit of rectifying the sins for which the previous Temples were destroyed. This corresponds to the last part of the night, representing the end of the long, dark exile blossoming into the brilliant dawn of Redemption. The baby suckling from its mother refers to the pure and innocent state that the Jews will attain as they regain their unique and direct sustenance from G‑d while the intimacy between husband and wife refers to the endearing, loving and intimate relationship between G‑d and the Jews which will last eternally.