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The Two Goats and US

04/23/2021 12:30:39 PM

Apr23

Rabbi Barry Gelman

ויקרא ט"ז

(ז) וְלָקַ֖ח אֶת־שְׁנֵ֣י הַשְּׂעִירִ֑ם וְהֶעֱמִ֤יד אֹתָם֙ לִפְנֵ֣י יְהֹוָ֔ה פֶּ֖תַח אֹ֥הֶל מוֹעֵֽד׃

He shall take the two goats, and set them before Hashem at the door of the Tent of Meeting.

Sounds simple enough, but the Rabbis add important caveats as to how to choose the goats.

שְׁנֵי שְׂעִירֵי יוֹם הַכִּפּוּרִים, מִצְוָתָן שֶׁיִּהְיוּ שְׁנֵיהֶן שָׁוִין בְּמַרְאֶה וּבְקוֹמָה וּבְדָמִים וּבִלְקִיחָתָן כְּאֶחָד

The mitzva of the two Yom Kippur goats, the goat sacrificed to God and the goat sent to Azazel that are brought as a pair, is as follows, ab initio: That they will both be identical in appearance, i.e., color, and in height, and in monetary value, and their acquisition must be as one, i.e., they must be purchased together.(Mishna Yoma 6:1)

The biblical verses layout the ritual.

וְנָתַ֧ן אַהֲרֹ֛ן עַל־שְׁנֵ֥י הַשְּׂעִירִ֖ם גֹּרָל֑וֹת גּוֹרָ֤ל אֶחָד֙ לַיהֹוָ֔ה וְגוֹרָ֥ל אֶחָ֖ד לַעֲזָאזֵֽל׃

Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats; one lot for Hashem, and the other lot for the scapegoat.

These two identical goats have very different fates. One is presented to God in the holiest of places while the other is marched into the wilderness to be pushed off a cliff. 

וְהִקְרִ֤יב אַהֲרֹן֙ אֶת־הַשָּׂעִ֔יר אֲשֶׁ֨ר עָלָ֥ה עָלָ֛יו הַגּוֹרָ֖ל לַיהֹוָ֑ה וְעָשָׂ֖הוּ חַטָּֽאת׃

Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for Hashem, and offer him for a sin offering.

הַשָּׂעִ֗יר אֲשֶׁר֩ עָלָ֨ה עָלָ֤יו הַגּוֹרָל֙ לַעֲזָאזֵ֔ל יעֳמַד־חַ֛י לִפְנֵ֥י יְהֹוָ֖ה לְכַפֵּ֣ר עָלָ֑יו לְשַׁלַּ֥ח אֹת֛וֹ לַעֲזָאזֵ֖ל הַמִּדְבָּֽרָה׃

But the goat, on which the lot fell for the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before Hashem, to make atonement for him, to send him away for the scapegoat into the wilderness.

We often think that our station in life is due entirely to our merit, hard work, or lack of hard work. Maybe we have been told that had we only tried harder we would have made it. The Yom Kippur ritual as described in this week’s parsha teaches to recognize that probably, because of some twist of fate, having nothing to do with us, we are either fortunate or unfortunate. 

Can the Torah, perhaps be telling us that we are those goats? One of the common explanations of sacrifices (especially sin offerings) is that the animal takes the place of the sinnig individual. In this case, then, the message is stark.

The two Yom Kippur goats remind us that we are not so different from those who are different from us ...we just either "won" the lottery, or did not. Of course, we should not downplay the importance of hard work and effort, but the power of the goral - fate, must be recognized in a just and kind society. 

For those who got to the altar, to exaltedness, to recognized prominence we should feel grateful and humble. Circumstances (fate) have contributed in great ways to that. On the other hand, those who are in the wilderness need feel no shame. 

Michael Sandel, author of The Tyranny of Merit, notes that the power of the goral - fate is not properly appreciated. A 2020 article about his most recent book, The Tyranny of Merit notes that “more and more of his own Harvard students are now convinced that their success is a result of their own effort, two-thirds of them come from the top fifth of the income scale”

This type of thinking leads to troubling conclusions as he writes. “The implication is that those who do not rise will have no one to blame but themselves...“Those at the top deserved their place but so too did those who were left behind. They hadn’t striven as effectively. They hadn’t got a university degree and so on.”

Rabbi Yehuda Brandes in his treatment of the Azazel ritual calls the goat that is sent into the wilderness the “anti - sacrifice”. It is not part of the regular offerings in the Beit Hamikdash, rather it is sent away from Jerusalem and the Beit Hamikdash. It is not pure, in fact, it is impure and creates impurity in its handler. Its bones are strewn on the desert floor with the requirement that they be that they be treated with respect.

All of this is true and it is also true that the scapegoat started out EXACTLY like the goat that makes it to the Beit Hamikdash. It came so close to being the one offered in the Beit Hamikdash. It was not to be,all because of the “luck of the draw”.

Michael Sandel turns to the Bible (Kohelet 9:11)  to highlight the message of the Yom Kippur goats:

שַׁ֜בְתִּי וְרָאֹ֣ה תַֽחַת־הַשֶּׁ֗מֶשׁ כִּ֣י לֹא֩ לַקַּלִּ֨ים הַמֵּר֜וֹץ וְלֹ֧א לַגִּבּוֹרִ֣ים הַמִּלְחָמָ֗ה וְ֠גַ֠ם לֹ֣א לַחֲכָמִ֥ים לֶ֙חֶם֙ וְגַ֨ם לֹ֤א לַנְּבֹנִים֙ עֹ֔שֶׁר וְגַ֛ם לֹ֥א לַיֹּדְעִ֖ים חֵ֑ן כִּי־עֵ֥ת וָפֶ֖גַע יִקְרֶ֥ה אֶת־כֻּלָּֽם׃

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

To highlight the idea that this ritual teaches a message of understanding how we got to where we are, we should note that the goat that is sent to its death in the wilderness ultimately represents the largest group of Bnei Yisrael. Of the three confessions made by the Koheim Gadol, the one made over the scapegoat is the broadest. The first confession is for the Kohein Gadol and his household, the second one is for his tribe. 

Regarding the third confession, the Torah states: (Lev. 16:21)

וְסָמַ֨ךְ אַהֲרֹ֜ן אֶת־שְׁתֵּ֣י יָדָ֗ו עַ֣ל רֹ֣אשׁ הַשָּׂעִיר֮ הַחַי֒ וְהִתְוַדָּ֣ה עָלָ֗יו אֶת־כל־עֲונֹת֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וְאֶת־כל־פִּשְׁעֵיהֶ֖ם לְכל־חַטֹּאתָ֑ם וְנָתַ֤ן אֹתָם֙ עַל־רֹ֣אשׁ הַשָּׂעִ֔יר וְשִׁלַּ֛ח בְּיַד־אִ֥ישׁ עִתִּ֖י הַמִּדְבָּֽרָה׃

“Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, even all their sins; and he shall put them on the head of the goat, and shall send him away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness.”

It is the scapegoat - the goat that does not get to be offered in the Beit Hamikdash - the “have not” of the two goats, that represents everyone. The message - it could have been us. We could have just as easily been the disadvantaged one. 

This shabbat we are reminded that not every advantage and disadvantage is because of hard work or lack thereof. Some people and communities, by a twist of fate, are advantaged, while others are disadvantaged.

What is the message in all of this?

First, humility. Work hard, yes, but also appreciate that we have been given many advantages and opportunities. This will change the way we think of ourselves and of others. 

Second, appreciate the importance of community. One of the mental mistakes we make is thinking that our success is the product of our individual hard work without giving enough credit to the power of community to raise us up. The truth is that we are interdependent. In many cases, it is our community that gives us the upper hand, that serves as the “fate” that propelled us. 

Our response to this should be gratitude and the desire to expand our notion of community so that others can enjoy the success and respect. 

Tue, May 18 2021 7 Sivan 5781