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Friday, April 15, 2011

There But For Fortune...

This week's parsha describes in great detail the special service done in the Tabernacle (and later in the Temple) by the High Priest for Yom Kippur. The service is long (it took all day!) but I want to focus in particular on the part which was brought especially to achieve atonement for the nation as a whole.

First, though, I will point out that the High Priest had to bring sacrifices for him and his family, which included all of the other priests. Specifically, he had to bring a bullock as a חטאת chataat, a sin offering, and a ram as an olah, on offering which was completely burnt on the altar. The idea was that in order to be fit to represent the children of Israel, the High Priest himself had to be in a state of purity and atonement.

The children of Israel, for their part, had to offer two goats as a sin offering and a ram for an olah.

So right away we want to know why their sin offering was of a different animal, goat as opposed to bullock. But further: Why two?

Once the bullock of the High Priest was offered and atonement achieved, then the two goats were brought to the High Priest. He would lay on them גורלות goralot, lots. One would indicate לה' lashem, for the Lord, and the other לעזאזל laazazel.

The word azazel is only used in this context. There are various ideas about its meaning. One is that it is a fusion of two words עז and אזל. Together they mean 'a goat goes.'

The verses tell us that the one upon which the lot lashem fell would be brought as a sin offering and the other would be sent to azazel in the wilderness.

Chazal understand from the specifics of the verses that ideally the goats would be purchased at the same time and would look as similar as possible.

So what's the deal with the lots?

We find elsewhere in the Tanach that lots were used to determine Divine will. What seems like a chance operation was actually, literally a Divining method. Other examples are lots that were cast to determine how the land of Canaan would be divided between the tribes. In the book of Joshua lots were used to determine who had violated the ban on taking spoils from the conquering of Jericho.

But still, why two, why goats and why choose them by lots? 

One approach taken to understand why goats is offered by the Ramban and expanded on by the Abravanel. In Hebrew they are called שעירי עזים s'irei izim, he-goats. The word sair, though, can also be translated as 'hairy.' It is used to describe Esav. It is also similar to the word tzair, which means 'a youth' or someone who is relatively pure and untouched. Yaakov is referred to as 'ish tam' a 'whole' or 'complete' person. 

At the beginning, Yaakov and Esav had the same potential, but they each chose different paths. They were both the sons of Yitzchak and Rivkah but they each determined their fortunes. They also, of course, both remained the sons of Yitzchak and Rivkah for their entire existence.

The s'irei izim of Yom Kippur end up in some way representing both of those paths which our ancestors chose.  

Also, to begin with, both goats are taken as a chaat, a sin offering. They are only differentiated after the casting of the lots.

These goats were used to achieve atonement for the children of Israel at large. The one ends up being brought like a regular sin offering while the other is cast off of a cliff into a stony ravine.

It seems to me that essentially, the two goats are viewed as one but they represent different aspects of the nation. The one that is sacrificed to Hashem in the regular way which sacrifices were brought, represents that which is open to all. The entire congregation witnesses that sacrifice. And it is in line with all that is open and known.

The goat for azazel, by contrast, is cast off by a single man who himself may not witness its death. This goat seems to represent something of the dark side of the nation, those things which are hidden and which are not spoken of, perhaps. 
Maybe only by acknowledging our whole selves, our open ideal side as well as our hidden, dark side, can we achieve true atonement and ultimate purity.

Shabbat shalom!

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