Thursday, September 20, 2007


In the Torah reading for Yom Kippur morning, the Torah describes the special avodah of the kohen gadol on Yom Kippur, an avodah that was closely watched by the nation for it was meant to serve as a means of national kapparah. So crucial was this avodah that a magical means of ascertaining its efficacy was provided, the lashon shel z’horit which changed from red to white when the servicee had been performed in the prescribed manner. Clearly, this entire ceremony has intense symbolism.

One of the most intriguing part of this kapparah service was the selection of the two s’eirim; one to be offered on the mizbeach as a chat’os and the other [also referred to as a chat’os] which was sent off into the desert and then thrown off a steep cliff to its death.

Ramban offers an astonishing explanation for the s’eir sent to Azazel, explaining that it is meant as a means of pacifying the Satan, as it were, so as to give him his due. Perhaps some day I will find some means of understanding this comment which seems to contradict the very fundamentals of our beliefs.

Rav Hirsh suggests that the s’eirim represent the choices that life offers; kirvat Elokim as represented by the mizbeach, or void and depravity as represented by the s’eir sent to Azazel. He points out that this must always be seen as being a choice rather than destiny and offers interesting support from a halachah. If the goat chosen for Azazel died, or became a ba’al mum, before the ceremony, another goat was brought out and the selection process through the goralot was repeated. That is, the new goat did not become the s’eir l’Azazel by default. That role had to be a result of clear choice as represented by the goralot.

The selections by the kohen then are to be understood as representing the ultimate choice that life offers us: a life dedicated to Hashem or a life that is lacking meaning - l'Azazel. There is no middle road. Abandon G-dliness and you end up in a desert where your missteps will ultimately lead to your destruction. Cleave to Him and you will enjoy the opportunity of kirvas Elokim as symbolized by the goat sacrificed on the mizbaech.

That said, however, one is perplexed by the means used for this important life choice. Why a random lottery? Is the fact that one s'eir will end up as a sacrifice to G-d and one will die purely a matter of the luck of the draw? And if this is so, might one not mistakenly conclude that many of the choices we think we make are really meaningless and no more than happenstance? Would it not be more symbolically appropriate if the kohen would actually decide that one goat would be offered while the other would be sent off to die in the desert?

offers an interesting insight that clarifies the issue. Goralot are to be seen as a manifestation of a Divine decision. In his words: "for goralot, especially when performed by one of His chasidim [i.e., the kohen gadol], is equivalent to asking G-d to make the choice." By using the goralot as a means of deciding which s'eir should be brought as a sacrifice and which sent to Azazel, the kohen was acknowledging man's frustration in trying to see into the future. Man might plan and prepare only to find that it was all for naught - l'azazel. On the other hand, man might seem lacking and empty, a candidate for the cliff, but his worthlessness might be no more than a manifestation of our inability to see real truth or value. Faced with that dilemma, on the Holiest day of the year, the kohen abandoned his pretentions and admitted that such questions are better left for G-d to answer.

This is a humbling notion to those of us - educators and parents - faced with choices about how we should deal with our children's future. How much do we preplan for them and how much do we leave up to random choice? How many of them are destined for azazel rather than the mizbeach? Don't make the choice alone, don't believe for a moment that it is no more than random luck. Look to Hashem that He might help you as you make your choices. In our era, when we no longer have the goralot and the s’eirim, let our prayers be focused toward asking for siyatta d’shmaya that our life choices be guided by His Hand.

1 comment:

Izgad said...

When we pray are we trying to gain the necessary wisdom to make these choices or are we asking that God should in some sense interfere with the world?