Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Hasidic Fable on Taking the Goat by the Horns

A fable from the teaching of the Hasidic the master Menahem Mendel of Kotzk:

Rabbi Yitzchak of Vorki knocked, entered Rabbi Mendel’s room, and said the greeting: “Peace be with you, Rabbi.”

“Why do you say rabbi to me?” grumbled the rabbi of Kotzk. “I am no rabbi! Don’t you recognize me? I’m the goat! I’m the sacred goat. Don’t you remember the story?

“An old Jew once lost his snuff box made of horn, on his way to the house of study. He wailed: ‘Just as if the dreadful exile weren’t enough, this must happen to me.’ Oh me, oh my, I’ve lost my snuffbox made of horn.” And then he came upon the sacred goat.

The sacred goat was pacing the earth, and the tips of his black horns touched the stars. When he heard the old Jew lamenting, he leaned down to him, and said: ‘Cut a piece from my horns, whatever you need to make a new snuffbox.’ The old Jew did this, made a new snuffbox, and filled it with tobacco. Then he went to the house of study and offered everyone a pinch. They snuffed and snuffed, and everyone who snuffed it cried: ‘Oh, what wonderful tobacco! It must be because of the box. Oh what a wonderful box! Wherever did you get it?’

“So the old man told them about the good sacred goat, and then one after the other they went out on the street and looked for the sacred goat. The sacred goat was pacing the earth and the tips of his black horns touched the stars. One after another they went up to him and begged permission to cut off a bit of his horns. Time after time the sacred goat leaned down to grant the request. Box after box was made and filled with tobacco. The fame of the boxes spread far and wide. At every step he took the sacred goat met someone who asked for a piece of his horns.

“Now the sacred goat still paces the earth—but he has no horns.”

Source: Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasidim: The Later Masters (Schocken).

Thanks to Alex Tang for recommending the story.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Is this the sacred goat?