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Had Gadya: One Little Kid

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With the help of our animal companions we can achieve greatness.

This is the life-lesson of three stories, the most recent of which I read in last week’s New York Times.  There I learned that a paleontologist’s nine-year old son was chasing their dog in a South African cave, when the dog led them to some well-preserved fossils that may shed new light on human evolution.  These bones may be from a predecessor of Homo erectus who lived nearly two million years ago.

This reminded me of another story about a young Bedouin shepherd who was tending his flock along the cliffs near the Dead Sea in the spring of 1947.  Searching for a lost goat, he stumbled upon a jar filled with manuscripts in a cave which would later be called Qumran.  His discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls continues to influence our emerging understanding of biblical texts and the many sects who lived in ancient Israel.

Finally, the lost goat at Qumran recalls a much older story found in Midrash Rabbah, a collection of ancient rabbinic legends. This is the story of Moses, who was also working as a shepherd when God noticed his extraordinary capacity for compassion and thus chose him to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt.  In this translation by Danny Siegel, the young goat is identified as a sheep, but the connection to our first two stories remains palpable.

Our teachers have said: Once, while Moses our Teacher was tending [his father-in-law] Yitro’s sheep, one of the sheep ran away. Moses ran after it until it reached a small, shaded place. There, the lamb came across a pool and began to drink. As Moses approached the lamb, he said, “I did not know you ran away because you were thirsty. You are so exhausted!” He then put the lamb on his shoulders and carried him back. The Holy One said, “Since you tend the sheep of human beings with such overwhelming love – by your life, I swear you shall be the shepherd of My sheep, Israel.”

In a similar story, Moses chases a goat up the side of a mountain, where he discovers a bush that is burning but not consumed.

There are those who recognize the uncanny ability of our four-legged companions to guide us beyond the boundaries that constrain us.  These stories remind me that walking upright is a remarkable achievement, but perhaps not as important as bending low to follow God’s “lesser creatures” to glorious heights.

 

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Comments (3)

This is so beautiful… thank you.

Oh yes. Henry Beston offers a more elegant response than I can: “We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.”

Beston is indeed elegant. You always have a perfect quotation for any occasion!

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