Friday, August 29, 2008

Who Put the Goat in the Aron Kodesh? - Ellul and Cheshbon HaNefesh

The last post that I wrote is supposed to be a preamble to this one. The message of that post was that Moshe is telling us the we have to evaluate everything that is in front of us. It can be more substantial than meets the eye. And everything we do is a choice that can bring us to other places we may not have thought about.

There is one more thing that he teaches us. And this revolves around the question that all of the commentaries ask:
Why does the pasuk start off in the singular - Re'eh - you see; and it continues in the plural - I have put in front of you - לפניכם - the plural you?

I have seen a myriad answers to this. But one that came to my own mind is as follows (similar to an explanation by Rav Menachem Mendel of Kotzk):

Moshe is commanding each individual to open his eyes and see that the Bracha and Kellala is here in front of all of us. In other words, each individual has his own bechira but he must be aware that his bechira doesn't affect him alone - it effects others as well.

And I don't mean just some of the time. I mean all of the time.

And now, I want to tell you this story. I heard this story on a tape from Rabbi Paysach Krohn. The story he told is probably how it really happened. But I am going to amend it a drop. Amend it to show how it should have happened.

He tells that a few centuries ago in one province in Russia there was a young yeshiva bochur who was a bit free-spirited and mischievous. More of a prankster than a scholar (sounds familiar?). One morning he wanted to have a bit of fun so he tucked a goat in the Aron kodesh of the bais midrash before davening. It was a day with krias haTorah so when the Aron was opened in the middle of davening out pops a goat and starts prancing all over the bais midrash.

It didn't require much investigation to identify the perpetrator. In short order the case was taken up by the faculty. The overwhelming opinion was to expel the young man but such a move would have drastic implications. This was not the place or era of today's "there's-a-yeshiva-for-every-kind-of-boy" philosophy. If a boy was expelled from yeshiva - his yeshiva career was over.

As this was a very weighty decision, the case was referred to the posek acharon of that province who at that time was none other than Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the Baal HaTanya. The Baal HaTanya asked to see the boy personally, and he was brought before him. The Baal HaTanya asked him some questions and then asked him if there is any reason he should not be expelled from the yeshiva.

The quick-witted prankster responded, "If you expel me from the Yeshiva, you are not only expelling me. You are also expelling my children and my children's children and their children for all generations."

The Baal HaTanya was impressed with this boy's out-of-the-box reasoning and so he told him, "You are a bright boy. If you promise to buckle down and to desist from these pranks we will let you remain in yeshiva."

This is the story as I heard it from Rabbi Krohn. But I was a bit let down. I think , if this is what actually transpired, that the Baal HaTanya missed an opportunity to make a forceful point. In my opinion, his words would have had more impact if he told the young man as follows:

"I see that you are a bright boy and that you have much potential. If you desist from these antics, I am more than willing to give you another chance. But, know this: When you put a goat inside the Aron Kodesh, you are not the only one that is putting the goat inside the Aron Kodesh. Your children and your children's children and their children for all generations are also putting the goat inside the Aron Kodesh..."

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