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By Rabbi Yehudah Prero | Series: | Level:

In Vayikra 16:1-34, the Torah describes the service that the Cohen Gadol (High Priest) was to perform on Yom Kippur in the Holy Temple. As Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year, and the day is one set aside for atonement, the service of the Cohen Gadol differed on this day from every other day during the year. One of the distinguishing parts of the service was the taking of the two goats. The verses tell us (16:7-10) “And he (Aharon, the Cohen Gadol) shall take the two goats…and shall cast upon the two goats lots: one for Hashem, and the other lot for Azazel. And Aharon shall present the goat upon which the lot for Hashem fell, and make it into a sin offering. But the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be set alive before Hashem, to make atonement over him, to send him away for Azazel into the wilderness.” On this latter goat, the verses tell us later, “Aharon shall lay both of his hands upon the head of the goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, and all their sins, and he shall put them upon the head of the goat, and shall send (the goat) away…into the wilderness.”

Many commentators have explained how exactly this service was done and the significance of this service. Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch wrote that from this service, we can learn a lesson.

(Before we get to Rav Hirsch’s lesson, however, it is important to understand two aspects of the service. One is that these two goats had to be almost identical. They had to be worth the same amount of money, they had to be the same height, and they had to have identical appearances. The goats had to be equal. The second is what was done with the second goat – the goat for Azazel. The verse merely says that the goat was sent into the wilderness. The wilderness that is being referred to is rocky and hilly terrain. When the goat reached a certain point, it was “pushed” off a cliff, and it tumbled down the rocky and sharp surface to its death. Now that we know this about the service, we can return to Rav Hirsch’s lesson.)

Lets imagine the scene on Yom Kippur in the Temple. Two identical goats are brought into the Temple grounds. The Cohen Gadol draws lots that will determine the fate of the goats. On one lot, the word “To Hashem” is written; the other lot says “To Azazel.” Once these lots are drawn, the similarities between the goats end, as their fates are drastically different. The goat which ends up being the one “for Hashem” is taken, and slaughtered with the utmost holiness and purity. It is the blood of this goat that ends up being sprinkled in the Kodesh HaKodashim – the Holy of Holies – the holiest location in the entire world.

The second goat, however, is not brought as a sacrifice. It remains alive. Let us imagine further what this goat might be thinking when it sees it has not been killed. It is very possible that this goat would be overjoyed by the fact that it remained alive while his identical friend now is but a pile of ashes. The more this goat thinks about how his fate differed from his friend, the more possible it is that he might become haughty. “Look,” the goat would say, “See how different I am from my friend! Granted, he was used in service of Hashem, for a holy purpose. However, he had to die! And me, they decided to keep alive! They valued my life!” When the goat would then be led out of the Temple grounds, towards the majestic hills outside of the city of Jerusalem, the goat’s happiness and excitement might build: “I was worthy of being allowed to leave the Temple, to roam as a free “man” in a free world!”

The goat would then be taken to the cliffs. All this time, his haughtiness would be growing. He would be thinking how lucky he was compared to his friend who ended up as a sacrifice. The goat would stretch out its neck, raise his head in pride and say “See how great I am, standing here, overlooking the majesties of the world, free as a bird.” He would view his friend who was killed for sacrificial purposes with disdain. We, as observers of the whole scene, know exactly what the fate is of this goat who thinks he is the luckiest goat in the world. If this goat had any idea of why he was being taken to this rocky cliff, he would not be thinking anything close to these thoughts. If he knew that he would end up tumbling down a mountainside being ripped apart by the sharp stones, these thoughts would never enter his mind. In a few short moments, after a gentle shove, it will be clear to everyone which goat was the lucky one.

Every person has two possible options as to how they should live their lives. One path that can be taken is the path of Torah – following the Torah and listening to Hashem. This path draws its followers closer to Hashem. The second path is the path of a “free” life, full of earthly indulgences and a love of this world – a life very far from one consisting of Torah learning and observance. The first path, although seemingly devoid of all the pleasure that the second path has to offer, is the one that will take us to where we all really want to end up – to dwell in the holiness of Hashem.

Furthermore, the first path actually is not devoid of pleasure and reward in this world. Although the lifestyle that the first path demands is one that may seem difficult, dry, and unrewarding, Hashem ultimately rewards all who follow it. On the other hand, those who desire the free life – free of the “restrictions” imposed by Hashem and the Torah – end up with not nearly what they expected – and end like the goat for Azazel.

The service involving these two goats on Yom Kippur should remind all of us about the eternal struggle that occurs within each and every one of us. Our evil inclination leads us to believe that the second path is the way to go – the path of the goat for Azazel. Our good inclination works diligently to try and pull us onto the first path – the one taken by the goat for Hashem. On this day of Yom Kippur, we have a clear and vivid demonstration of what will happen to us on each possible path that we could take. Hopefully, this demonstration will cause us to realize how we have been mistaken for following the goat for Azazel, and that from now on the goat for Hashem will be our guide.

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