He Goat: Yom Kippur’s Prima Donna


Rosh Hashanah marks the birthday of the world – the anniversary of its creation. First, say our sages, the Creator made heaven and earth. Now on earth’s birthday He wants a birthday gift from us. No, not the trinkets we hand each other, He wants more. He wants the gift of the heart, the gift of goodness.

Every Rosh Hashanah He asks us to take a self-administered test, grade ourselves and underline those areas wherein we are deficient. Lastly, we should repent and ask forgiveness so that on Yom Kippur – ten days later – our personal scorebook rates an A plus.

Truly these are the Days of Awe, but even in these ten days of tension, we need nourishment. And since we are Jewish – the People of the Kitchen as well as the People of the Book – we may as well eat with joy.

We eat sweet things with the hope that it will help to bring on a sweet year. A traditional round challah bread and sliced apples dipped in honey are served along with wishes for a sweet year. And of course we tell the story of the scapegoat in Leviticus.

I know the Lord loves all his children – human and animal. But I have a feeling that He has a soft part in his heart for goats. You don’t agree?

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. He is the goat who relieves us of sin on Yom Kippur.

Its fate was scripted on the Holyday, that first day of cr 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 assignments.

“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 thoughtfully “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 gravity, 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.”

“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.

Share Button