Rabbi Yisroel Chait

The scapegoat is a very unique sacrifice. All other sacrifices require shechita and zerika which is the fulfillment of the sacrifice and reflects the presence of atonement. However, the scapegoat is brought to a desolate place and is brutally killed by being thrown over a precipice. Chazal teach us that the nations of the world criticize the B'nai Yisroel for its practice of the saeer líazazel as being solely ritualistic and ceremonial. Although the gentiles have ritualistic practices, they are symbolic and their performance engender some emotional satisfaction unlike the scapegoat. Judaism prides itself on the fact that ones commitment to the Torah is based upon his intellectual conviction and that its commandments are ethical and moral principles. We must therefore explain the significance of the scapegoat and the intellectual insight the Torah is imparting to us.

The Eben Ezrah gives us a clue as to the secret of the saeer l'azazel. He states that a basic secret of the scapegoat is after the word azazel and when you are 33 years old you will know this secret. If counts 33 verses from the word ha'midbarah, the word after azazel, which appears in Leviticus, chapter 16 verse 10, one may get a clue. The verse that is being referred to is 17,7. The verse states: "They should no longer sacrifice their sacrifices unto the satyrs that lead them astray. Rashi explains the word l'saeerim to mean l'shaydim, unto the demons. The Eben Ezrah is teaching us that if one desires an insight into the scapegoat he [sic] must recognize that adhering to this practice will lead one to the practice stated in chapter 7 verse 17. The Israelites will no longer turn astray and sacrifice to the shaydim as the nations of the world. We will explain this insight after we examine several salient laws with respect to the saeer l'azazel. It is interesting to note that the Rambam holds that the saeer renders atonement without repentance for all commandments that are not punishable by kares, excision. Rebbi's, Rabbi Yehudah HaNasiís position in the Talmud, although we do not paskin like him, is that even the day of Yom Kippur effectuates atonement. We must appreciate how does atonement work if the sinner is not repentant. Halachically Teshuvah implies that one must return to G-d. His relationship with the creator must be rekindled as a result of his recognizing the cause of his sin and being able to elevate himself to a higher intellectual level. The individual is a changed person, one who is no longer drawn by the temptations of the instinctual nor the frailties of the emotional components of his nature which causes him to commit the sin. We therefore must understand how does the mere practice of the scapegoat grant atonement to a sinner?

The last Mishna in the tractate of Yumah quotes a statement of Rabbi Akivah which states "Happy are you Israel before whom you are purified, and who purifies you, your father in heaven." This is a puzzling statement. Anybody who does Teshuva and returns to G-d as a result of his own actions is purified before G-d. This applies even to a Gentile. Why does Rabbi Akivah specify a Jew; and furthermore it seems from his statement that Teshuva is extraneous to this purification process. We must try to comprehend Rabbi Akivah's teaching.

Nachmanidies comments on the Eben Ezra and explaining the service of the scapegoat discusses a Medrash. The Medrash says that the children of Jacob give Samael, their prosecuting angel, a bribe on Yom Kippur. This bribe is the sacrificial goat. It is given so that he should not annul their sacrifices. The goat l'azazel has all the sins of the Children of Israel on its head as set out in the verses in the Torah. The Medrash continues, as a result Samael will see that there is no sin on Yom Kippur and will explain before G-d, Creator of the world, there is one nation in this world which are akin to the ministering angels. Just like the ministering angels are bare footed, so too on this day the Jews are bare footed. Samael makes similar observations when addressing G-d with respect to eating, drinking, standing all day, making peace amongst themselves and being free of sin. In all these activities the Jewish people on Yom Kippur are comparable to the ministering angels. The Holy One upon hearing these testimonies from the prosecutor Samael, makes atonement for the alter, the sanctuary, the priests of Israel and for all the people of the assembly of Israel. This is the Agadah that the Rambam quotes to help us understand the saeer l'azazel.

This Agadah raises several questions. Who is Samael and how is he bribed? Originally the purpose of the bribe is so that the sacrifices should not be annulled, however the seeming result of the bribe is that it is responsible for the entire kapara of Yom Kippur. The Rambam in the Guide To The Perplexed states that Samael is the appellation applied by our sages to Satan. The derivation of the word Samael is Sam - Kel, the blinding of G-d. Samael represents that part of human nature which blinds the individual from perceiving the ultimate reality, G-d. The yetzer harah and Satan are used interchangeably by Chazal and represent mans evil inclination which is rooted in his physical nature. Chazal use the term Satan, which implies something external to man, to signify that this part of man is not his essence. Rather the tzelem elokim is man's essence. Chazzal use the term yetzer haírah to teach us that although it is not man's essence we are nevertheless responsible for this part of man. The key to understanding the saeer líazazel is appreciating its inexorable connection to kapparat Yom Hakippurim. There were two goats which were subject to the lottery. One was designated for G-d and was brought upon the alter as a sacrifice. The second goat was designated l'azazel and was the saeer haímishtaleyach, the goat that was sent away to meet its final destiny in the desert. The atonement of the day of Yom Kippur was really a result of the goat that was designated l'azazel and not the one that was brought as a sacrifice. The kapparat Yom HaKippurim is unique because it atones for many sins, kalot vechamurot, lenient and stringent sins. Whereas a korban chatas is brought for a particular maase aveira, act of violation, and atones for that particular sin. On Yom Kippur lifneh Hashem tetaharu, we are purified before G-d. The essential character of the day is a mechaper. This is a different type of forgiveness than a specific korban chatas, a sin offering. Yom Kippur is related to the state of the gavra, the individual. The day is mechaper the individual. A person who appreciates the sanctity of the day, demonstrates that he, as an individual, is worthy of forgiveness. Consequently, this new status results in the removal of the particular sins.

An understanding of the service of the scapegoat gives us insight into the essential nature of the sanctity of Yom Kippur and its function as a metaher. The saeer líazazel functioned as a atonement for all the sins of the Jews. Leviticus Chapter 16, Verses 21 and 22 tells us that Aaron placed his hands on the saeer líazazel and confessed all the sins of the Children of Israel and all their transgressions and placed them on the head of the Azazel goat. How does this goat serve to forgive all the sins of the Jewish people? The Torah is teaching us that the sins of man are really separate and extraneous to his essential nature. Aaron was capable of removing all of man's sins and placing them on the head of the goat. The saeer líazazel as stated, represents the Satan, man's evil inclination, the part of man driven by his fantasy. This service signifies that the part of man which is based upon his emotions and fueled by his fantasy is really not reflective of man's true essence, his tzelem elokim, his sechel. This part of man, his instinctual nature, is severible from his true nature. However, if man follows his fantasies and his evil inclination he is doomed as the saeer l'azazel, to face a brutal and lonely death.

The Midrash quoted by Ramban, Nachmanidies, can now be understood. We bribe Samael and give him the saeer l'azazel. We as Torah Jews recognize that the pursuit of the fantasy blinds us from perceiving chachmas haboreh, the wisdom of our creator. We acknowledge by the service of the scapegoat, that there is a spiritually higher nature to man, his true essence which we value. As Torah Jews, we thereby attempt to lead our lives based upon the tzelem elokim. By bribing Samael, we acknowledge that there is a part of man's nature, which is overpowering. However, we can not deny our instinctual nature, but must acknowledge that it stems from the lower part of man's being, and as such must be dealt with. If we deny our instinctual nature Samael, it can have tragic consequences. On the contrary, we recognize the instinctual part of man's nature but acknowledge our life long struggle as Torah Jews to separate that part of our nature from the tzelem elokim. Only by bribing Samael and recognizing the potent powers of the fantasy, can we hope to ever be successful in combating these forces and removing them from overwhelming our actions as Torah Jews. We demonstrate that ultimately if one is led astray by the powers of the fantasy he will surely perish and be doomed to spiritual genocide.

The saeer líazazel was taken to the desert by the ish iti, a specially prepared man. This demonstrates that the ultimate destruction of the saeer is not fortuitous. Rather, it is a necessary result that the pursuits of the fantasy will lead to ones downfall. That is why the ish iti was mezuman l'kach, was prepared for this job, to ensure and guarantee that the saeer would meet its eventual destruction. This recognition by Klall Yisroel that we appreciate the overwhelming force of man's instinctual nature and constantly strive to overcome it and elevate our lives to a higher spiritual plane, makes us akin to the malíachey hashares, ministering angels. This causes Samael to remark that on Yom Kippur the Children of Israel are like the Ministering Angels. The Ministering Angels are not under the influence of the instinctual, they are not swayed by emotions. Similarly on Yom Kippur the Jewish people demonstrate through the prohibitions of the day (eating, drinking, cohabitation, and wearing leather shoes etc.) that we abstain from these physical pleasures to demonstrate that there is a higher part to man's existence.

This explains how the saeer líazazel atones for all sins. Since man recognizes this concept and appreciates that his physical existence leads him on the path of Samael, he must strive through chachma to live life based upon his tzelem elokim, and thus become a different type of gavra. Yom Kippur is a day of reality whereby he recognizes the dangers in his daily existence of Samael but elevates himself on this day to be metaher before Hashem. This explains that although a person did not do teshuva on a particular maeseh aveira, but since he recognizes the consequences of Samael and that man's true essence is chachma, he has elevated himself to higher spiritual level and he is a gavra worthy of forgiveness.

We can now understand the reason why there are two goats, one for Hashem and one for azazel. This represents man's duel nature, his intellect which is l'Hashem and his instinctual which is l'azazel. In order to have the sacrifice to Hashem, you must have the saeer l'azazel. One can not be successful in his struggle as a talmid chachom unless he recognizes the lower part of human nature. Intellectual perfection can not be achieved if one simply represses his instinctual nature. By repressing one's instinctual nature it still remains a influential part of his personality.

The many meticulous details with respect to the performance of the saeer líazazel also evidences this concept. A person is driven to the life of the physical by many powerful forces. Each of these drives are shattered by the method of performance mandated by the Torah by bringing the saeer l'azazel. A person is drawn to the life of the material because of the enticements of the physical pleasures that one imagines is comforting when living an instinctual existence. This is why the saeer líazazel is brutally thrown over the cliff to a torturous death. This represents that visions of physical pleasures are illusory and transitory and ultimately will result in a painful shattering of such false emotions. A person is also drawn to the life of the physical because he feels that material success garners respect and popular acceptance by the masses. Therefore the saeer l'azazel is sent out with one man, alone without any fanfare, to a desolate and lonely place in the desert. This demonstrates that leading a life of materialism will ultimately and invariably result in a lonely and desolate existence. Lastly, a person is fooled by the entrapments of a physical existence in order to insulate himself from the limited nature of such an existence and to cater to his fantasy of immortality. Thus the saeer líazazel always meets the same destiny, a harsh and cruel termination, to help emasculate any such fantasies that a person may harbor.

We can now appreciate Rabbi Akivah's statement quoted in the last Mishna in Tractate Yumah. "Happy are the Children of Israel because they are purified before G-d." Although it might be possible in isolated cases for individuals to come to the true recognition of G-d, however for a nation of people, on such a large scale, is impossible. How fortunate are we Torah Jews who have a system of Torah and Mitzvos, (that contains the abstract and beautiful practice of the saeer l'azazel), a system based upon chachma that allows us to recognize man's true nature and remove ourselves from living a purely physical existence, the life of fantasy that ultimately leads to man's downfall. Therefore Rabbi Akivah exalts "how happy are we the nation of Israel that we are fortunate to such a blessing."