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Parashat Re'eh: 118 Goats in Boise, Idaho

Last week, something unusual happened in Boise, Idaho. As the New York Times reported,  “around 7:15 a.m. [last] Friday, bewildered homeowners awoke to find more than 100 [goats in their] neighborhood, looking for anything they could munch on.

‘I just saw dozens and dozens of goats chewing up my neighbors’ yards,’ [said] Chris Kozlowski. The goats busted out of a nearby field, where a company that rents the animals for landscaping purposes…had kept them.  The company, We Rent Goats, said…that the 118 goats were supposed to be eating noxious weeds at a nearby pond. But in a case of overzealous chomping, the goats stood up on their back feet and leaned against some wooden boards to nibble on tall weeds. The boards broke, and the goats escaped. 

By 8:30 a.m., We Rent Goats had corralled the creatures back into a truck, and the excitement was over. ‘All 118 have been safely transported to their next job…[w]here the fence is much stronger.’  [A local reporter covering the scene] said that the goats were friendly, and that he got to pet one. They weren’t very noisy, aside from the chewing. The smell, he said, was awful.  But while the residents were witnessing real-time property damage, they seemed to be in a good mood about it. Children jumped up and down in excitement.  ‘You would assume the homeowners were upset that their lawns were being destroyed, but everyone was enjoying it…Everyone was really happy about it.…’”

Goats have been newsmakers lately. Throughout the country, including right here, in the Berkshires, at Hancock Shaker Village, Goat Yoga is gaining popularity.  You understand me correctly - this is yoga that you practice with goats - the instructions say to bring a mat, a towel, and an open mind.   Hancock Shaker Village’s goat yoga instructor, Alison Walter, says  “‘I think animals are kind and gentle and it helps people feel good about themselves to be around them. So combining animal therapy and yoga is an amazing match because it provides both the good-natured animals as well as soothing breath and movement. Then throw in the fact that you’re outside really creates a beautiful experience.”

It sounds so crazy that it just might work. I have a yoga and meditation practice, but I haven’t tried goat yoga just yet. 

The opening word of this week’s Torah portion, Re’eh, speaks to why these two types of goat interactions capture our eyes and our hearts - Re’eh means see or look. 

As Abraham Joshua Heschel teaches, there are different ways to look at the world around us. We can speed through our day, focused on our to do lists or our cell phones, ignoring the beauty all around us. 

Or we can approach the world from a perspective of radical amazement and awe at the beauty of creation. We’re no strangers to radical amazement in the Berkshires. Lately, many of you have been asking about my drive to Temple from Great Barrington. For me, that time is sacred - holy - filled with awe. Safely, of course, I always make sure to look at the view - the dark storm clouds hovering above the deep green mountains, with a stripe of orange hovering between the sky and the earth. The beauty of creation before our eyes.

Whether at goat yoga or a surprise goat flash mob in Boise, Idaho, these unexpected encounters with creation, these moments of radical amazement, help us pause and see the world through different eyes. The Idaho goats, the yoga goats, the mountain view - all help us be present and joyful. As the Times noted, “the [goat] escape provided a brief moment of joyful respite on social media, where people stopped arguing about politics for long enough to laugh at the goats.” This week, while I hope no one’s lawn is overrun by goats, I do hope we all find moments of joy, beauty, nature and awe.

Fri, December 13 2019 15 Kislev 5780