What would the Animals in the Bible tell us if they could speak?

    August 2011          
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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 road.

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 wilderness.”

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 newborn kid.

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.





from the August 2011 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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