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A haftorah of blame and blessings

Liel Leibovitz
March 12, 2010
So says the Lord God: In the first month, on the first of the month, you shall take a young bull without blemish, and you shall purify the altar. And the priest shall take of the blood of the sin-offering and put it on the doorpost of the House, and on the four corners of the ledge of the altar and on the doorpost of the gate of the Inner Court. And so shall you do on seven [days] in the month, because of mistaken and simple-minded men, and expiate the House.

Ezekiel 45: 18-20

This week, the human Leibovitz was kind enough to let me have his column and say some things I think you guys need to hear. Allow me to introduce myself: I’m a bull.

And folks, it’s about time we had a nice, long chat. Granted, I’m only a young bull. A young bull without blemish, true, but a young bull nonetheless. And I’m probably not as well-read as some of you—you wouldn’t believe how difficult it is for a bull to get a library card—but I do read the Bible. And in the Bible, there’s a lot of talk about bull sacrifice. This week’s haftorah, for example, begins with the slaughter of one of my kind, a good chap martyred “because of mistaken and simple-minded men.” Can you believe it? Can you imagine how angry that makes me? Well, let me tell you, it’s shenanigans like these that give your species a pretty bad reputation out here in the field.

By now, some of you are probably thinking I’m being unreasonable. After all, you dropped the sacrifice thing a while ago, and except for the Spaniards and their moronic matadors, most of you treat us well enough. Still, I read Ezekiel and my blood boils: The more I think about it, the more I realize that while your kind may have forgone the actual sacrifice, it never got rid of the sacrifice mentality.

The other night, for example, I was watching the Academy Awards. It’s something we animals do every year. We particularly like the In Memoriam section; there’s something thrilling about having outlived all those gorgeous, fit humans. But when Mo’Nique took the stage, everything changed. “I would like to thank the Academy,” she said in her acceptance speech, “for showing that it can be about the performance and not the politics.”

I wasn’t sure I understood, so I went to consult with the horses. They’re terrible gossips and know all about celebrity stuff. But even they were confounded. Any way you choose to interpret it, Mo’Nique’s statement can only mean one thing: Had the Academy chosen to give the award for best supporting actress to anyone else, it would have succumbed to some subtle thread of racism and disrespect, Mo’Nique alone being the paragon of thespian greatness. Even when they triumph, mistaken and simple-minded humans still feel that old-time urge to blame everyone else for the circumstances of their life; luckily for us folks, you no longer take it out on us.

Instead, you take it out on one another. Like Elinor Burkett, producer of the Oscar-winner for best documentary short. The film’s director and producer, a smiling, tall gentleman named Roger Ross Williams, walked on the stage and began his heartfelt speech, when Burkett charged out of nowhere, grabbed the microphone, said, “Let the woman talk,” and proceeded with her crazy rant. Let me tell you, even the pigs were shocked. Pull a stunt like this on the farm, and it’s no feed for a week.

What bothers me about Burkett and Mo’Nique has little to do with bad manners or lack of taste. What drives me mad is that even those members of your species who are at the top of the food chain—wealthy, talented, celebrated—are so quick to see their lives as a series of slights, so ready to blame others for everything, so comfortable with conspiracy theories and spite and indignation.

And Hollywood is just the tip of the iceberg. The Republicans in Washington, the governor in Albany, the rambling tea-partiers all over the nation, all screaming the same screed: It’s somebody else’s fault! Somebody else must pay the price!

Used to be you could sprinkle a dash of bull blood and consider yourself purified of your baser instincts and your stupid mistakes. No longer. Best of luck to your species.


Unblemished Bull

Liel Leibovitz is a senior writer for Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.

Liel Leibovitz is editor-at-large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.