Yom Kippur's Prima Donna

    Issue Number 25, September 1999          
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A Fable for the High Holydays

By Ted Roberts

I know the Lord loves all his children - human and animal. But I have a feeling that he has a soft spot in his heart for goats. You don’t agree? Well, consider the partiality he showed this species at creation time. He not only blessed him with a set of insides that can handle paper, rags, and tin cans, but this good natured browser received the scapegoat mission. You remember it’s described in Leviticus: Aaron shall “confess” over the scapegoat all the sins of the people, symbolically transferring a load of guilt from us to the dumbfounded animal - who is then led off to the wilderness wailing over its lot with its thin, piercing shofar-like voice.

It is the goat who relieves us of sin on Yom Kippur. Its fate was scripted in the Holyday Megillah on that day of creation when the animals were assigned their roles. This was a big day in Eden. All the animals were assembled in the meadow by the water hole. One by one they were summoned to appear before the throne. Here, they would receive their assignment. Since the donkey was nibbling some lush green grass near the throne, he was first.

“On YOUR back,” announced the Lord, “the Messiah shall enter my Holy City of Jerusalem. You shall be the limousine for my messenger of Peace and Justice.” But since the donkey had such a grand role - and to teach the world that appearances are trivial - the Almighty didn’t over decorate him. He’s a plain fellow - always schlepping stuff from Dan to Beersheva - with comic oversized ears and a voice that brings down the pine cones from the trees. And a stubborn disposition that invites kicks to the nether end of him. If you didn’t read the script - the Chumash - you’d think him a clown - not a big-eared prince - in the drama of mankind.

The goat, watching carefully, awaiting his mission, moaned when he saw the Lord bless the burro with his significant missions. What remained for him? Now it was the turn of the goat.

“Goat,” said the Lord. “I have chosen you - not one of my most elegant creations - to be the savior of Israel. Your swaying back shall bear the sins of the people. I shall send you with your noxious bundle far away into the forsaken lands where the sun never shines. Every year at Yom Kippur, the High Priest shall select one of your breed to perform the solitary mission of absolution. You, one of the lessor creations - crying as you enter the wilderness - shall bring forgiveness.”

The goat listened. Fear gripped his heart and he pawed the earth. He nervously fluttered his lovely eyelids several times in succession. Even then he had long, curly lids. But the rest of him was strictly junkyard gray with a long skinny tail like a possum that ineffectively lashed at flies that would torment him in the life to come. His ears, like the donkey’s, were outrageous. He had no horns. So when the goat heard his magnificent, but perilous assignment, he figured the Lord might be generous enough to improve his imperfect appearance. “Lord,” he bleated as he thoughtfully chewed his cud.

“Considering the service my tribe will render to your people, could I make a few simple requests?” And the Creator of all things from the moss on the tree trunk to the Leviathan, nodded positively.

Now, remember that most of the other animals had already been formed, including the sheep. The goat was wary. He could just see those heavy handed shepherds with biting shears shaving the trembling lambs.

“Please, sir,” he shrilled in his high voice. “No thick, rich fleece for me, but a nice coat of scraggly fur to keep me warm will be just fine.” And somehow this farsighted creature knew of mutton stew supplied by fat sheep. So he begged the creator to make him a muscular animal with stringy flesh.

“Boney will be great, please.”

Well, that took care of survival, thought the clever goat who was already envisioning a long and happy life. But hmmm, consider the broad back of the donkey. Definitely not an asset if one wanted to wander loose in the meadow without some lazy human loading you up with his paraphernalia. So he requested a slender build and shoulders no wider than his head.

“And please, sir, a digestive system that can handle tree bark and all the litter that mankind will invent and scatter in the world to come. Maybe, he thought, me and my clan can provide a solution of the waste storage problem that sooner or later will overwhelm mankind.”

“And I almost forgot,” said the world’s first negotiator. “How ‘bout some horns instead of these embarrassing ears. There should be grandeur in my banishment to the wilderness, not burlesque.”

The Lord sighed and agreed. The bargain was struck. So the goat had his way, which is a small price, I say, for the load of sin he carries off to the wilderness.

Ted Roberts is a Jewish humorist and commentator whose work appears in the Jewish Press. as well as in Disney Magazine, Hadassah, Wall Street Journal, and others. He lives in Huntsville, Alabama.

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