Has anyone ever asked you whether you are more a cat or a dog person? Before you answer, think about this: Members of the cat family, including lions, often carry their tails high.
Most times, members of the dog family, including foxes, hunt with their noses close to the ground as they follow a scent. So lions generally raise their tails, while foxes lower their heads.
These are not merely idle observations about animals from a rabbi who enjoys Animal Planet and National Geographic shows about God’s amazing creatures. No, they help explain a famous aphorism from ancient Jewish wisdom, “Become a tail to lions rather than a head to foxes.”
In other words, we can attach ourselves to people who make us feel as if we are their heads. They flatter us by asking our opinions, emulate us and make us feel important. However, standing at their head still barely raises us above ground level. Inevitably, they keep us down. Our association with such ‘fox-like’ people tends to reduce rather than elevate us.
On the other hand, there are others who offer us an opportunity to serve them. They don’t call us “boss”—instead they issue directives. Rather than flattering us, they tell us the truth and correct our mistakes. In the end, these ‘lion-like’ people raise us up.
Remember when along with a gas fill-up, an enthusiastic young person offered to check your oil and clean your windshield? One particular gas station always had lines of eager customers because its attendants took really good care of visiting motorists.
Its owner was known to pay the lowest wages around. He also had the highest employee turnover. Why did his young employees provide such exemplary service?
It turns out that the canny owner gave the following speech to all his new hires.
“I won’t be paying you much but this is the best first job you could ever have.
If you do well, you won’t be here long. Do what I say and I guarantee that you
will soon start receiving job proposals paying far more than I’m offering.
Take one of those jobs. You will have earned it.”
He explained that successful business owners actively look for good employees. They are alert and aware that someone who makes a good impression greeting customers, pumping gas and cleaning bugs off windshields, can probably do a whole lot more than that.
The gas station owner never lacked for new employees eager to climb onto his career escalator. The enterprising motorists who hired away his people found employees willing to start at the bottom and work hard to move up. The young people learned vital work skills while making important connections. A good deal all around.
These young high school kids could have ended up in first jobs with ordinary bosses who saw them as unimportant, indistinguishable low wage earners. Instead they lucked into becoming tails to a lion.
In chapter 27 of the Biblical book of Numbers, God informs Moses that his time on this earth is coming to an end. Moses responds by expressing the concern that Israel not be ‘like sheep without a shepherd’ and asking God to appoint his replacement.
Who might this replacement be? After all, the Israelites had prestigious heads of tribes. They had prominent princes. There were priests, judges, and other leaders. Moses himself had two sons. Surely one of these high ranking eminences was to become his successor?
Yet the Lord said:
Take Joshua…a man in whom there is the spirit…
Who was Joshua? He was Moses’ attendant. Yet Moses was a lion and through serving him, Joshua learned, grew, and became the man who led Israel into the Promised Land.