My Minyan of Animals
Dedicated to Nemi Lobel, for her love of animals.
By Annelise & Jason Taylor
A young man once lived alone, but not like you would expect. He did not own a house, or any of the things most other people could not do without.
Sometimes he lived at the top of a mountain amongst the scattered trees and mossy boulders, with a view as spectacular as the colours of a rainbow. Sometimes he lived in the valley down by the river of gentle flowing water, where fish jumped out into the cool breeze.
Often in the sunny warmth of the day he walked by the orchards and pastures near town, saying a kind “Hello” to the cute and curious baby animals playing running games. Other days he spent deep in the heart of the forest, surrounded by trees that almost touched the sky, and native peaceful wildlife. All day he lived under the sun and in the beauty and tranquility of nature; at night he fell asleep, slumbering beneath the bright display of stars.
His name was Selig. He was happy and peaceful and the animals and trees were his friends. He cared for them and they looked after him.
Another man, named Abraham Tzvi, came walking through the woods one calm, fresh morning with his flute. He played a beautiful melody. Selig heard this music and streams of joy filled his soul. He went to listen, dancing a jolly of steps as he did. As the two men met, Selig was surprised at Abraham’s kind and friendly greeting. They sat under the shade of a young, aspiring tree growing its way to the heights, talking for a long time.
Selig listened quietly as Abraham told him about life in the town with his wife and children, his work and his friends. When he talked about Torah, Selig listened carefully with great intent and learnt joyfully as the pure words of Torah and G-d flowed passionately from Abrahams lips. A new stream of clear water had come into his heart under this bright blue sky. Selig had discovered something true and good.
Selig now longed to understand more. From then on the two friends met every week. They talked together, learning good wisdoms from each other. More than anything, Selig loved to pray. He had often walked through the wilderness of the bush, talking to whoever had created such a magnificent place. He asked Abraham many questions about how to pray and was overjoyed to understand that it was simple and that his prayers would always be listened to.
Abraham was amazed at Selig’s simple, innocent way of life and the way that although he was isolated from the outside world, he still had a pure belief in the supreme Creator.
There came a day when a wave of sadness swept through Selig’s soul. He learnt that a man can’t only walk the path of prayer alone; that everyday he should join with other people, at least nine other friends, to pray, or as Abraham called it, to daven. Abraham called this group a minyan and suggested that Selig come live in the town so he could daven to the Creator, whom he called Hashem. Selig couldn’t bear to do it, to live in the city. He told his friend that he would pray for an answer.
As he walked slowly to the mountain that afternoon wanting to find a spot where he could clear his head and organise his thoughts properly, Selig came across a strange group on his path. He saw a donkey, a deer, a sheep, three ducks, a weird pink four-legged thing that resembled a fat tree stump that walked, and two goats, wandering along. ‘Could this be my minyan?’ Selig thought to himself as he guided the troop to the river so they could quickly swim before hurrying off to pray. It was something called a mikveh, which Abraham had mentioned was something they did to cleanse themselves. The sheep were very stubborn and took a lot of convincing. After he had finally managed to get all the animals to swim in the river, Selig walked with his flock of minyan members to the spot where he began to build his synagogue.
It was a very special place to Selig. He had planted it full of colourful flowers, aromatic herbs and other assorted plants. It had a view of a small waterfall and the air was fresher and cleaner here. He wove branches between trees for the walls. Instead of making a complete roof, he just lashed some smalls log together in a six-pointed star and decorated everything with berries, vines, flowers, fruit and scent plants. For the rest of the afternoon Selig sat with his toes dipped in the water while he wove little round head coverings called yarmulkes for all his new friends in his minyan to wear.
In the morning he called his minyan of animals all to come inside and pray with him. It didn’t work as he hoped. He couldn’t let the strange pink animal come in because it was covered in mud and making loud snorting noises. Every time Selig tried to give it a bath it squealed furiously. This made Selig feel sad, as he thought he had hurt the poor creature and made it run away.
Selig now realised he no longer had nine friends for his minyan, which saddened him even more. He thought maybe there was a bird in one of the trees nearby that would join in his minyan. He stared up and searched around the tree tops. As he walked further away from his synagogue he heard the pleasant call of a magpie, and once he found the bird he made gentle whistles, mimicking the magpie’s tune. It craned its neck and stared silently at Selig, who continued to whistle softly on. After a short moment it flew from its perch and glided elegantly to the ground, landing in front of Selig. He turned on the balls of his feet and headed feverishly back to the rest of his minyan so he could finally pray.
When he got back, Selig saw the goats eating all his pretty flowers. The donkey was laying down, crushing most of his aromatic plants. The ducks were swimming figure eights in the river. The deer had scratched its antlers on almost every tree, rubbing off the bark, and the sheep was pulling out all the bundles of grass from the entrance to Selig’s synagogue and loudly chewing them up.
Selig became a little frustrated, but nevertheless he was intent on praying, so he herded all the animals up and huddled them into his synagogue. The donkey came in first and sat quietly by the door, making it difficult for the other animals to pass. Eventually they crowded in too. Selig arranged them quickly from tallest to smallest. At first they were quiet while Selig prayed, but that didn’t last; the animals became restless and loud. Selig ignored them till he was finished praying. When he finished, he turned around and saw one of the goats munching on the vines and decorations. The other goat was eating the last of all the yarmulkes. The sheep was chasing the magpie, who was chasing the ducks, feathers were floating everywhere from the fluster, and the donkey and the deer were facing each other, repeatedly nodding their heads and bumping each other on the scalp. Selig saw this chaos and knew that animals would not suffice. He needed another minyan.
When he came to a part of the river down from the waterfall that afternoon, he saw a cluster of trees standing together in the middle of a small clearing, their branches stretching up towards the wide glistening sky overhead. He counted them; nine trees. This would be his minyan.
After swimming for a while in the shining, cold water, Selig climbed out and huddled in the middle of the nest of trees and spent hours talking with his Creator.
Many times that week he came back to his minyan of trees and prayed. He poured out his heart, and he listened to the reply that came in the whisper of the wind and the happenings of his days. When he saw Abraham next, he told him about his minyanim
Abraham loved what Selig told him, and knew that this simple man had a pure heart and soul. Abraham applauded the efforts to which Selig went to speak with the Creator, but informed him that a man needs to gather with other men, whose souls were more like his own. Selig didn’t know what to do. He certainly didn’t want to be in the busy mess of the town. He liked it out in nature, living side by side with the world as it was first created. He couldn’t bring himself to come to town. But as they spent the afternoon walking and talking together, the two friends had a perfect idea. Together they built a bigger synagogue, putting it near the river so it had a mikveh. They covered its walls again with berries, vines, fruit and an array of aromatic smelling plants. The following morning, Abraham arrived with his family and a few of his closest friends. Finally Selig had his minyan. Selig prayed with more passion and sincerity than he had ever done before.
His new friends would come and pray, then most days they would quietly walk back to the town to live their days there, leaving Selig to wander alone amongst the plants and animals as he loved to do. Some days they would stay longer and the children would frolic in the water, climb the trees, or run in the small cleared meadows while Selig made them all a meal or showed them new paths through his home. The birds sang vibrantly, the leaves rustled, and the fresh air blew always around their faces.
So Selig lived all his life happily under the sky. He often climbed to his mountain and prayed from the heart on his own.