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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
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,
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
“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
“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
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,
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