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Friday, 14 July, 2017 - 12:00 pm

Rabbi Adler was called away unexpectedly due to an illness of a close family member. He entrusted his new assistant Rabbi with filling the pulpit. When Rabbi Adler returned, he asked his wife what she thought of the young Rabbi’s sermon.

"Oy, it was one of the worst I've ever heard," she said. "There was nothing in it, nothing at all. It didn't even make sense. It was disorganized, and the message absolutely meaningless. His presentation was actually not bad—he is a good speaker, has a nice voice; but his message? Oy my G-d, the worst ever. The entire congregation was disappointed."

Later that day, Rabbi Adler met his young assistant Rabbi and asked him, "How did the Shabbat service and the sermon go? Did all go well? How did you manage?"

"All went very well, Rabbi, absolutely wonderful," he said. "I didn't have time to prepare a new sermon of my own on such short notice, so I hope it’s OK, but I just got on your computer and pulled up one of your older sermons from previous years."

Let’s study today a fascinating and absurd Talmudic story, related to the weekly Torah portion of Pinchas—and related to the laws of sacrifices in the Holy Temple, which we remember and study about during these Three Weeks of mourning till ninth of Av.

A king and queen, living during the Second Temple era, debated which taste is preferable, that of the sheep or the goat. The king said, “Goats are superior. The taste of goat meat is far better than sheep meat." The queen said, “No! Sheep are better. In terms of taste, the Lamb trumps the goat."

They decided to seek the verdict of the top expert: The High priest serving in the Holy Temple. Because of his familiarity with the taste of both of these animals which regularly served as sacrifices in the Temple, and were partially eaten by him and his colleagues, he would know best.

The high priest at the time was a man named Yissachar. The high priest dismissed the opinion of the king as ludicrous. His proof? The Torah demands in our portion that the Jewish people offer two daily sacrifices in the Temple: "One lamb you shall make in the morning, and one lamb in the afternoon.” The daily offering, known as the “Korban Tamid,” offered in the Temple 365 days a year, 7 days a week, and burnt completely on the altar, consisted of a lamb, not a goat. Obviously, G-d loves lamp chops more than goat meat!

What are we to make of this apparently ridiculous episode? Do kings and queens have nothing better to do than this? Sitting and arguing what’s tastier; a mutton or cabrito? And the Talmud feels it has to record it for eternity?!

What is even stranger is the Kohen Gadol's answer to them. Did he honestly believe that since G-d asks for a daily lamb sacrifice, it proves that sheep meat is superior to goat meat? Did he think that G-d was feasting over the meat? And again, the Talmud records this answer?!

What is the difference between a goat and a sheep? At birth, as a goat emerges from its mother, one of the first characteristics that can be seen are its long ears. In contrast, a sheep's lips are the first body part that can be seen as it is born. 

Although sharing many external characteristics, they are fundamentally different in behaviour. Goats are naturally curious and independent, while sheep must be part of a flock. There is no such thing as a wild undomesticated sheep, but there are many wild and untamed goats.

Sheep are meek and tame, while goats are sly, strong and aggressive. For the goat, the ears must come first. For the sheep, the lips must come first.

When the Jews were asked if they would accept the Torah, they responded: "We will do, and then we will listen and understand." Rabbi Elazar said: When the Israelites gave precedence to ‘we will do’ over ‘we will understand,’ a Heavenly Voice went forth and exclaimed to them, "Who revealed to My children this secret, employed by the Ministering Angels?"

There was a certain Sadducee (from the sect of Jews who denied the authenticity of the Oral Tradition), who came upon the great Talmudic sage Raba engrossed in his studies. “You rash people,” the Sadducee exclaimed to Rava, “who gave precedence to your mouth over your ears; you still persist in your rashness. First you should have listened what the Torah is teaching. If  you felt it was for you, then accept it; if not, you should not have accepted.”

We see here a fundamental debate on how to deal with our duties in life. Do we first use our ears or our lips? Do we first emerge with our ears like the goat, or with our lips like the sheep?

Do we say, "I do not do anything until I grasp it, until it makes perfect sense to me, until I am fully comfortable with it?" So when G-d comes and gives me a Torah, I say: "First explain to me the meaning behind all the 613 mitzvot and then I will consider practicing them."

Or, perhaps, I say: "I trust you. I will do. And then I will try and understand to the best of my ability."

This was the debate between the King and the Queen. What is tastier, a lamb or a kid? As we recall, with the lamb, the lips emerge first. A kid on the other hand has long ears, so that its ears are visible before the entire head.

The King and Queen in the above Talmudic narrative are debating this critical issue. The King, who himself was a Sadducee, maintained that the goat was far better. It is much "tastier" to live a Jewish life where you understand everything, where everything fits comfortably into your brain- where the ears precede the lips. First you listen and understand, and only later do you declare loyalty based on how much you understand. That is far tastier and more delightful, than surrender and “blind” dedication.

But the Queen, the Yidishe Mamma, who in this case happened to be a very righteous woman, Shlomtzion Hamalkah, argued that the lamb was superior. Sure, there is a type of surrender in life that is blind, foolish and abusive. But when there is someone you trust, when you are dealing with G-d, who loves you infinitely and whose wisdom you will never fully grasp, the only way to enter into the deepest, most enriching relationship is by opening yourself up to the fact that truth is greater than you. And you do not allow your present feelings and thoughts to limit and define the depth of the relationship.

To respond to this vital debate, the chef from the Waldorf Astoria will not suffice. We need Yissachar the High Priest for some clues.

His message was this: G-d desired a daily sheep, not a goat. G-d wants a daily re-enactment of Sinai, when the Jews said “naaseh,” before “nishmah,” when their lips preceded their ears, when they declared “we will do,” and only after that, “we will understand.”

The same is true in a marriage. At some point you need to trust the other person, and dedicate yourself to the other person completely without constantly seeking to understand them and analyse them. Without this key component, the romance cannot flourish.

It is the Jewish woman who always grasped this truth faster than the Jewish man.

We live in an unstable world. Every day, nay every hour, something else happens that shocks and scares us. Every day brings so much crazy news that we forget the previous day. 

What has given our people a ticket to eternity, is the secret of the daily “sheep” offering, the secret of Naaseh V’nishma. We have always known that we ought to be anchored in that which remains eternal, stable, absolute and unwavering. Even though we can’t understand much of history and of present day events, we remain steadfast in our commitment to our people, our G-d, our Torah, our Mitzvot and our purpose to be abhorred by evil and obsessed with good, justice and kindness. 

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

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