Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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28 Nissan 5760 - May 3, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
The Scapegoat

by L. Jungerman

"And Aharon shall lay two lots upon the goats, one lot for Hashem and one lot for Azazel." (from parshas Acharei Mos)

The chapter of the Yom Kippur goat sacrifices is shrouded in mystery. What is the meaning of the lots that were cast, and what is the significance of sending the goat to Azazel? How can the goat bear upon his back, as it were, all of the sins of Israel, and how are these sins atoned for through the shattering of his bones? A profound enigma.

And yet, our Torah sages of ancient times opened for us a slit to admit some light of knowledge and understanding into the essence of these matters that are so profound, those lofty ideas represented by the sending off of the scapegoat to his death at Azazel.

There is one fascinating phrase composed of an acrostic which is pointed out by Be'er Moshe and offers us a straw for our puny intellect to grasp at in attempting to glean an insight. "Azazel," he says, stands for "Zeh le'umas ze oso Elokim -- Side by side [in juxtaposition] did Hashem create them."

Chazal in Yoma (62) expounded: The two Yom Kippur sacrificial goats must be equal in appearance, height, price (market value). They must be purchased together. Pachad Yitzchok explains that so long as there exists some external difference, either in appearance, height or price, one can look at them and distinguish between them. But if they are virtually identical, and still one is selected as the `goat for Hashem' and the other for Azazel, this fact indicates that the difference is very deep, essential, and not rooted in external, incidental factors.

This diagnosis compares to the qualitative difference between Israel and the nations of the world. Chazal comment in Midrash Rabba Bereishis (chapter 65), on the fact that Eisov was a hairy man while Yaakov was smooth-skinned. "And the goat (so'ir) shall bear upon him -- this refers to Eisov -- all of their sins -- the sins of the tom -- which refers to Yaakov, as it says, `And Yaakov was an ish tom'." We learn from here that the goat that was sent to Azazel is directed against Eisov, as a simile. The fact that both goats must be identical stresses the fact that even when Eisov seems, for all appearances, equal to Yaakov, still the inherent difference is polar, divergent one from the other. One is wholly and perfectly unto Hashem and the second is worthy of oblivion.

What is the purpose in showing the difference between Israel and the nations precisely on Yom Kippur? And how is the atonement upon this day effected through this exercise with the two goats?

The answer to this, as dealt with in several works, is: precisely after the entire sacrificial service of Yom Kippur is completed in order to atone for various sins, then comes the moment when it is necessary to atone for the root of these sins, upon the very possibility of sinning. Upon the soul, itself. Has it become permanently blemished or not? Is it still alive?

This is time to arouse the remembrance of Hashem's love for Israel, which is an unconditional love. "Either way [whether they are good or sinful], they are still called sons." They are chosen, and this is a fact that transcends reason or logic. "Even in spite of this, when they were in the land of their enemies, I did not despise them or abhor them to break My covenant with them." The covenant is everlasting because the bond of the Jewish soul to its Creator is firm and does not suffer any change, whatsoever, even if mountains of sin pile up on it. "Many waters cannot douse the love and rivers cannot wash it away."

On Yom Kippur, which is "the end of pardon and forgiveness to all," as the Rambam put it, two identical sacrifices are prepared, similar in every way, and it is declared: Even though the sins have swelled mightily and for all appearances, the differences between the two have become effaced, G-d forbid, and a mortal eye can barely discern any distinction between them, "these are idolaters and those are idolaters," nevertheless, "Eisov is a brother of Yaakov, [yet] I loved Yaakov and Eisov I despised." For a Jew, no matter how much he sins, remains essentially a Jew, for even many waters cannot douse Hashem's love for us.

Then, the goat assumes the full burden of the sins of the tom, the whole and perfect one. These sins are detachable; they are not permanently engraved upon the soul of their perpetrators. They are no more than a cutaneous sheath of the soul, a covering that can be removed, discarded and changed. It is as if the sins are slipped off and thrown upon the head of the scapegoat who is sent to his death at Azazel. The snare is sprung and we are freed. For the Eternal of Israel shall not deceive. The person remains as pure and pristine as the day he was born. And the scarlet thread turns white. For even if your sins are like scarlet, like snow shall they whiten.

How marvelous is it that the festival of Purim, to which Yom Kippur was compared, Yom kePurim, also involves lotteries. Purim also highlights the basic difference between Israel and the nations. The lot ostensibly falls by happenstance, by chance without any outside influence. "The lot is cast into the lap, but the whole of its decision comes from Hashem," (Mishlei 16:33).

We learn both in Sifrei and Pirkei deR' Eliezer how it came about that Homon cast lots. This is because it is written, "When the A-mighty came to bequeath nations . . . " the lottery of Hashem fell, as it were, upon Avrohom and his descendants, as it is written, "For Hashem's portion is His people, Yaakov is the lot of His inheritance." Hashem said: The portion and lot that has fallen to Me is of My soul's choice, as it were, for it is written: "The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; yes, I have a good heritage." Line, or chevel, is related to lots.

Homon sought to blot out the uniqueness of the Jewish people. "Satan stood and slandered them before Hashem, saying, `Ribono Shel Olom, how much longer will You cleave unto this nation who separate their hearts and faith from You?'" (Midrash Rabba Esther 7). He posed the recurring question, "What differentiates these from those?"

But Homon's lottery turned out to be our good fortune. The salvation of Israel was anchored in the fact that Yaakov is Hashem's choice portion, for the root of Israel is joined unto Hashem in an indestructible bond. Forever more.

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