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