Three Stories about Animals from the Torah
By Arthur R. Pell
The Lost Little Lamb
I’m a good lamb. I really am. I obey my shepherd, Moses, and every day when he leads us to a
pasture, I am happy to follow him. Moses is a good shepherd and always finds the sweetest grass for us to
eat. I had heard from some of the older sheep that Moses was an Israelite, who had come to this place from
Egypt and had married the daughter of our owner, Jethro.
Moses protects us from wild beasts that often try to steal one of us for their dinner. More than once I saw
him chase away a wolf or jackal with the rod he always carries. He takes good care of us. Last week I
stepped on a prickly plant and a thorn stuck in my paw. Moses saw me limping, and quickly came over and
removed the thorn.
If a lamb or even a grown sheep wanders off, Moses seeks him out and brings him back to the flock
before it can come to any harm. I have never strayed -– until that strange day when a powerful force
seemed to push me away from the flock.
I didn’t want to go, but I couldn’t control my legs. This force pushed me away. Moses was tending to a
sheep at the other end of the pasture and did not see me leave. At first I walked, but the force within me
caused me to run up the side of one of the mountains surrounding the pasture. I stopped, looked around
and didn’t know where I was. I was lost. I started to cry, but then I saw Moses, coming up the mountain
looking for me.
I stopped crying and waited for him. I didn’t want to stray and I wanted Moses to bring me back to the
flock. But just as Moses was about to reach me, that mysterious inner force pushed me forward again and I
ran further up the mountain.
I stopped running as I neared the top and Moses caught up with me. He picked me up in his strong
arms and gently scolded me. “Naughty lamb,” he said, why did you run away?” I baaed, but although I
could not answer, I understood every word he said. “Now I will carry you down the mountain.”
Just as Moses was about to descend, he stopped. “I see a bush on fire over there. I must go over and put it
out before it spreads.” He put me back on the ground and ran over to the burning bush. I followed close
behind. When we came closer, Moses stopped short and exclaimed, “The flames are shooting up from the
center of the bush and all around it, but the bush remains unharmed by the fire.” For a moment Moses
looked on in awe. “How can this be?” he murmured.
Then a voice called to him from out of the bush. “Moses! Moses!” He answered, “Here I am.” And the
voice continued: “Do not come closer. Remove your sandals from your feet for the place on which you stand
is holy ground. I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. I
am aware of the plight of my people in Egypt and have heard their outcry because of their taskmasters. I will
send you to their king, whom they call Pharaoh and you shall free my people and lead them out of Egypt to
a land that I will give them -– a land flowing with milk and honey.”
Moses stood there shaking with fear and I heard him say, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and free
the Israelites from Egypt?”
And God said, “I will be with you. Go and assemble the elders and say to them, “The God of our fathers,
the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, has appeared to me and commanded me to take you out of Egypt to a
land that He will give you.”
“But, what if they do not believe me?”
“I will give the Israelites a sign that it was I who sent you. This is what you will do. Take the rod that you
carry and cast it on the ground.”
Moses cast his rod on the ground and it became a snake. Moses jumped back. The snake hissed at Moses and at me. I was so frightened I wanted to run
away, but I could not move an inch.
Then God said to Moses, “Grasp the snake by its tail. It will not harm you.” Moses picked up the snake
and it became a rod once again. God then told Moses to put his hand under his cloak and when he removed
them, they were covered with snowy scales. Then God told him to put the hands back under the cloak and this time
when he took them out, they were restored. “Do this before the elders. If they do not believe the first sign,
they will believe the second. If they still do not believe you, draw some water from the river and pour it on
dry ground and it will turn to blood.”
Moses pleaded with God, “I am not the man you want. I am only a shepherd and I am slow of speech and
cannot talk to people.” God replied, “Your brother, Aaron, speaks well. I will send him with you and you
shall tell him what to say and he will speak for you to the people.”
With that the fire went out. I looked at the bush. It stood as it had before the fire -- its boughs thick and
brown and its foliage bright green. Not a twig, nor a leaf had been destroyed.
Moses picked me up and we climbed down the mountain. Moses said to me, “Little lamb, you are truly
blessed. God chose you to bring me to that mountain. Had you not become lost and I had not sought you, I
would not have come to the burning bush. God created the force that led you to the mountain and to the
burning bush. I must carry out God’s orders. Tomorrow I will leave for Egypt.”
The next day Moses left us. I never saw him again. I rejoined my flock and Jethro selected another one
of his family to be our shepherd.
Time went by and one day I overheard Jethro talking with our shepherd. He said, “Moses has brought
the Israelites out of Egypt and they are now camped near the mountain where he had heard the voice of
God. I shall travel to the mountain to see him.”
I wanted to go with him and once again see Moses, but it was not God’s will. So I remain in my meadow
eating the sweet grasses and dreaming of the adventure I had with Moses and the burning bush. And I will
stay here always and never stray away again.
The Defiant Donkey
A donkey’s life is not easy. Our masters work us from sun-up to sundown. There is always
work to do. We may be laden with heavy bundles of wood or bales of wheat, or bushels of corn or bags of
soil and driven for miles over rough roads, unloaded and often laden again with another burden. If we are
lucky, we may only have to just carry our master home.
Some of us are yoked with another donkey to a plow and drag that heavy tool back and forth over
the fields. Some masters are cruel and beat us if we slow down no matter how tired we may be.
A few years ago, my then-master sold me to Balaam, who treats me very well. My work is much
easier than with my former master. Balaam is a seer known all over the world for his wisdom and the power
of his blessings and curses. Kings and leaders call upon him to help them in their wars and other activities.
My main work is carrying Balaam around the country as he counseled, guided and preached to the
people. He treats me kindly and never beats me. Indeed, we are friends and he often talks to me as we take
long journeys. I listen to his tales of magic he performed, how he healed the sick and how his blessings
have help kings win battles or curses that caused enemy to flee.
I know that he doesn’t really expect me to understand what he is telling me, but is thinking aloud
about his past exploits and his present activities. He is really talking to himself, but as I am the only one
present he pretends he is talking to me. As wise and as powerful as his mind is, he could never guess that I
can understand him. Of course, I cannot respond – animals like me just listen, but cannot speak.
A few weeks ago, I was grazing in the fields, when a group of men rode up to the house. They
dismounted and Balaam came out to meet them. I trotted up close so I could hear what they said. “We come
from Balak, king of Moab. He sends you this message: ‘There is a people that came out of Egypt and settled
in my land. They are numerous and strong -- too powerful for me to defeat. If you come to Moab and curse
them, I will be able to drive them out of my land. For I know that they whom you bless are blessed indeed,
and they whom you curse fall under the curse.’”
Balaam responded: “Spend the night here and I shall reply to you as God will instruct me. That night
I moved silently close to Balaam’s window. Balaam prayed: “Balak, king of Moab, has asked me to curse a
people who have come out of Egypt and are settled in his land. He says they are numerous and strong and
my curse will help him battle them and drive them off.” Then I heard another voice, a deep, resonant voice
I had never heard before. The voice said: “Do not go with them. You must not curse these people because
they are blessed.”
The next morning, Balaam told the messengers that he prayed and God had spoken to him and had
forbidden him to go with them. The messengers left and returned to Moab.
A few days later, another group of dignitaries –- more numerous and distinguished than the first –
came to Balaam and pleaded with him to come to Moab. They told him that Balak offered a very rich reward
and grant any wish he wanted if he would come and curse his enemies.
Balaam replied: “Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not do
anything big or little contrary to the command of my God.” He invited them to stay overnight and he would
find out what else God may say to him. That night God came to Balaam and said; “If these men have come
to invite you, you may go with them. But whatever I command you, that shall you do.”
The next morning, Balaam saddled me and we departed with the Moabite dignitaries. We rode over
the fields and hills for some distance. We were moving along when suddenly I caught sight of a figure
standing in the road with a sword in his hand – blocking the way. I swerved off the road into the adjacent
field. Balaam pulled the reins and shouted at me: “Get back on the path. Move! Move! Move!”
I wanted to obey my master, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t move. Balaam shouted at me
to move forward. He lifted his stick and beat me. No matter how hard he hit, there was no way for me to get
back on the road with that sword-bearing figure blocking the way. I realized that the figure must be an
angel – a messenger of God – and that Balaam could not see him.
A few moments later, the angel disappeared and I quickly moved back onto the road. I had only
gone a short distance when the path narrowed. Stonewalls separated it from vineyards on both sides of the
The angel reappeared on the lane. I tried to pass him, but I was forced to press against the wall and
squeezed Balaam’s foot against it. Balaam screamed at me and beat me again.
Then, the angel moved forward and stationed himself on a spot so narrow that there was no room to
swerve left or right. I did not know what to do. I just lay down with Balaam still sitting on the saddle on my
back. He became furious and beat me ever harder than before. “Move, you stubborn donkey, “ he
screamed. “Move, do not defy me!” No matter how loud he shrieked nor how hard he beat me, I could not
pass the angel in the road.
Then the angel touched me gently with his sword and opened my mouth. I cried out to Balaam:
“What have I done to you that you have beaten me these three times?” Balaam responded, “You know why I
beat you. You moved off the road into the fields and wouldn’t obey my order to return, then you squeezed
my foot against the wall and now you are lying down refusing to get up. If I had a sword in my hand, I
would kill you.”
I responded: “Look, I am the donkey you have ridden on many travels, have I ever disobeyed you?
He answered: No, you have been a faithful servant.”
Then God uncovered Balaam’s eyes and he saw the angel standing in the way, his sword drawn in
his hand. The angel said to him: “Why have you beaten this donkey three times? It is I who prevented him
from moving forward because your errand is against God’s will. When the donkey saw me, she shied away
because of me. Had she not shied away, you are the one I should have killed while sparing her.”
Balaam responded, “I asked God if I could go and he said: ‘If these men have come to invite you,
you may go with them. But whatever I command you, that shall you do.’”
The angel stepped aside and said; “Go, but say only what God commands.” Balaam mounted me and
we rode to a mountain, where we soon met Balak. Below us in the valley were the hordes of the people
Balak feared. Balaam dismounted. He looked to heaven and prayed: “God, what shall I do?” And God said: “I
will put words of blessing in your mouth.” Three times Balaam raised his hands towards the tribes of Israel,
and three times instead of cursing, Balaam sent God’s blessing to them.
Balak was furious and he raved and ranted against my master, but Balaam did not fear him. “God,
the creator and master of all the earth turned my curses into blessings. I cannot help you. You must let these
people stay in your land in peace until God commands them to move once more.”
Balaam then mounted me again and we rode home. We spent many more years together, but never
again did Balaam beat me.
The Sassy Scapegoat
You haven’t heard about the scapegoat? Let me tell you. It’s an ancient ritual that’s described in bible.
On Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement -- the high priest selects two young goats – one to be sacrificed to
God. And on he other goat the high priest lays his hands and confesses over it the sins of the people. Then
that goat is handed over to a Levite standing ready for the purpose, and, laden as it is with all these sins, it is
led forth to an isolated region in the wilderness, where it is released. This is the scapegoat.
All of us goats were told about this practice from the time we were little kids. Our mothers warned us
that if we were naughty, we would wind up as one of those goats. I paid little attention to those stories. I was
a happy goat, frolicking in the meadows with my brothers and sisters and eating the sweet grasses.
Most of the goats in our flock were quiet and kept away from humans except to be milked and
occasionally sheared. Not me. I would run around the pasture, singing along with the children and let them
ride on my back. They would feed me apple cores and other goodies. When the goatherd rounded us up at
the end of the day, I would run from him and made him chase me around the meadow. It made the
children laugh. They called me the sassiest goat in the herd.
When Yom Kippur was nearing, the goatherds gathered all of us and drove us to Jerusalem – to the Holy
Temple. As the other goats obediently followed along, I gamboled away and did a little dance. While my
brothers and sisters laughed, the goatherd threw a rope over me and dragged me back on line. My mother
was very angry with me. She reminded all of us that two goats would not be returning. She cautioned us:
“You do not want to be one of them. Be very quiet and stay close together. If you don’t call attention to
yourselves, the priest or his people will not notice you and will pick some other goats for the ceremony.
Then she turned to me and said. “You must control yourself. If you are sassy again, the High priest will
surely notice you.”
On the day of the sacrifice we were all paraded in front of the priests and Levites All the Israelites stood
around and looked very solemn as the priests prayed, sang psalms and prepared for the selection ceremony.
The High Priest emerged from the inner sanctum and everybody became very quiet. He was a funny
looking little man, wearing the ancient robes and vestments handed down from the time of Aaron. As he
walked with dignity down the Temple steps, he suddenly stumbled and fell. The people stared with horror,
but to me it was so funny that I jumped up and let out a loud, sassy laugh. All eyes turned to me. A Levite
rushed over to quiet me. The high priest stood up and beckoned the Levite to bring me to him.
I trembled before this holy man. I didn’t feel one bit sassy. The Levite held me and then another goat was
brought forth. The High Priest mumbled some prayers and walked around us seven times. Then he raised
his scepter and tapped the other goat. He raised his voice so all could hear him. “God has selected this goat
to be sacrificed to Him. Prepare him for the sacrifice.” A Levite led him into the Temple where the sacrifice
would be made.
Then the high priest put his scepter on my head. “This goat will be the scapegoat. I will place on him
all the sins committed by our people since last Yom Kippur and he will carry them away into the
I shivered with fright. Several priests came up to me and touched me with their staffs, each saying “On
thee I place the sins of my people.” I was so frightened that I almost collapsed,
When all the priests had placed the sins of their people on my back, a Levite placed a rope around my
neck and led me away from the Temple, from my mother and my family. We walked for several days into
the wilderness. When we reached a point far from the city, the Levite took the rope off and walked away,
leaving me alone in the wilderness.
I looked around me. There was no sweet grass to eat –- only prickly shrubs. There was no water to
drink. I had to walk miles to find a stream. There were no people, no other animals except for biting insects
and creepy snakes. I lay down and cried. “It would have been better to be sacrificed than to be sent here.” I
prayed that God would take me.
Despite my woes, I was so tired that I fell asleep. In my sleep I dreamed that an angel came to me. He
said, “You are a good goat and you will survive. You were sassy and didn’t do what the goatherd wanted,
but being a scapegoat is too grievous a punishment. You will find a way to remove the sins from your back
and return to your flock.”
I was awakened by a loud hiss. I looked around and saw a large yellow snake crawling next to me. I
jumped up shivering with fright. The snake hissed again and said, ”Ha! I got you. Last year about this time,
another goat wandered into this wilderness. I wrapped my self around him, squeezed him to death and he
provided enough meat for me for several days.” With that he started to wrap himself around me. I jumped
up and kicked him with my sharp hooves. He slithered away and I ran as fast as I could from that snake.
After a time I lay down to rest, but almost immediately a swarm of insects attacked me, biting me and
stinging me all over. I dropped to the ground and rolled around in the sand and dirt trying to escape from
their assault. Eventually, most of the insects flew away, but their bites and stings continued to hurt me.
I prayed to the angel crying, “You told me I was a good goat and should not suffer, yet I was almost
eaten by a snake and attacked by vicious insects.”
The angel replied. “You have suffered enough. However, before the sins that were laid upon you can be
fully redeemed, you must go to a great lake that I will show you and bathe in its waters. The sins will be
washed away and you will be free.”
I wandered for many days through wilderness and mountains and one day I saw before me a great body
of water. The angel called to me, “This is the place to which I have led you. Go into the water and you will
be cleansed of the sins the priests laid upon you.”
Now all of my life I have been afraid of drowning. Back at my pasture when the other goats went into
the stream to bathe and drink, I stayed very close to the shore. Now, I walked close to the edge of the lake,
put my paw into the water and quickly jumped away. “I can’t do this. I will drown.” I cried. The angel
responded. “Be not afraid. This body of water is very buoyant. The people call this the “Dead Sea” because
even fish cannot swim in it, but rise to the surface and die. You will not go under and drown, but will float
on the water.”
With great trepidation, I slowly waded into the water – and lo and behold, just as the angel had said, I
did not sink, but floated gently on the surface. I felt the waters wash over me and cleanse me of the sins.
The insect bites and stings disappeared and when I emerged I was as clean and free of blemishes as a
I thanked the angel and began my trek back though the wilderness to the pasture where my mother and
brothers and sisters grazed. They welcomed me, but warned me that I must never let the goatherd or other
humans recognize me as the scapegoat. From that time on I was the quietest and least sassy goat in the herd.