I have already written about the synagogue of Łańcut, the fantastic treasure trove of the Hasidic visual world. The most conspicuous motifs of the frescoes, completed in 1761, are the prominently placed lions, deer, griffins and bears, which also populate Hasidic cemeteries, and the bima with its scenes from the Scriptures, where the heads of the people are covered with foliage to prevent sacrilege, and the ceiling of the bima is adorned with the Leviathan.

But the whole decoration of the synagogue is an inexhaustible gold mine. Among other things, the frieze running at the height of the ledge depicts the twelve signs of the zodiac, like in many other Galician Hasidic synagogues, implying the continuity of Jewish festivities throughout the year. Here, in Łańcut, however, four alien animals mingle among the celestial figures on the entrance wall. If you do not recognize them at first sight, their labels will identify them: כנמר ka-namer, “like the tiger”, וקל נשר ve-kal ka-nesher “and light as the eagle”, רץ כצב rats ka-tsvi, “running like the deer”, וגבור כארי ve gibbor ka-ari, “and hero like the lion”.

The four figures are repeated with the same labels in the small hall of the synagogue’s lobby, which was the workroom of the first and greatest rabbi of Łańcut, later Rabbi of Lublin, Jakub the Seer. Judging by its more recent, less Baroque, rather 19th-century style, the Rebbe may have painted these later, as a constant warning to himself.

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The four figures and the text of their labels refer to a moral maxim well-known in Talmudic education. Its source is the Mishnaic book Pirkei Avot, “Teaching of the Fathers” (5:20), which attributes it to Judah ben Tema, belonging to the tannaim, the great 1st to 2nd-century rabbis. The saying goes like this: הוי עז כנמר, וקל כנשר, ורץ כצבי, וגבור כארי לעשות רצון אביך שבשמים “Be bold as the tiger, light as the eagle, run like the deer, and be strong as the lion, to do the will of your Heavenly Father.”

“Ushpizim Tablet” for Sukkot, Canada, 1947. In the center, the Temple of Jerusalem, soon to be rebuilt, and above, the four Mishnaic animals, with the images of Israeli holy places below them, just as in the synagogue of Łańcut.

What better could we wish for for the year of 5780, set to begin tonight? Shana tova.