On this week’s parshah: Moshe Rabbeinu descended from Har Sinai with the Second Tablets with him – a sure sign that G-d had forgiven the Jewish people for the sin of the Golden Calf. The day on which Moses descended from the mountain was the tenth of Tishrei; this day was thus established for eternity as Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. In this week’s Torah portion, the Torah describes the special services of this day (R’ Moshe M. Leiber).
The Two Goats
“U’mai’ais adas B’nei Yisrael yee’kach shnei s’ee’rei i’zim … v’heh’eh’meed o’sam lif’nei Hashem pesach ohel mo’ed w From the assembly of the Children of Israel he shall take two goats … and stand them before Hashem at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting." Leviticus 16:5,7
R’ Yissocher Frand writes the following concerning the two goats, rewritten here with many emendations and additions:
A major component of the Yom Kippur Temple Service involved the ritual of the shnei s’ee’rim – the two goats. These two male goats were taken and stood in front of the opening of the Mishkan (i.e. the Tabernacle) and ‘lots’ (goral in Hebrew) were drawn, assigning “one goat to Hashem and one goat to azazel”. The first goat was slaughtered and offered on the altar in the Tabernacle (later, the Temple in Jerusalem); the second goat was pushed off a remote cliff in the dessert (i.e. to azazel).
The Yom Kippur requirement of choosing these sacrificial goats by goral (lot) is unique in the Temple ritual.
The Akeidas Yitzchak zt”l offers a beautiful insight into this concept of goral: In the future, we will each be held accountable for what we do and what we don’t do in this world. Obviously, different people have different spiritual traits, varying strengths and weaknesses in matters of the soul.
For example, there are students who can sit and learn for hours on end; they have the patience and the intellect and the spiritual desire to sit in a Beis Medrash hour after hour studying Torah. On the other hand, there may be other equally bright young men who simply do not have the patience to sit and study for hours on end. After one hundred and twenty years, the scholarly student will go to the World of Truth and get his just reward for all the hours and years he spent studying Torah – even though his learning may have come relatively easy to him. But what about the person who did not have the patience to sit and learn; will he be punished for not having accomplished something he was apparently not given the tools of patience and studiousness to accomplish?
The same question can be raised regarding other personality traits: Some people by nature are very calm and serene and it takes a lot to make them angry. Because of their natural temperament, they practically never lose their temper. On the other hand, there are other people who have practically no patience whatsoever; they have a nervous makeup and they can get angry with very little provocation. In the final accounting, should they be held liable for not being as calm and serene through all of life’s stresses as their fellow, who was born with the inner tools allowing for a calm personality and a laid-back demeanor?
[On a personal note, I know a ma’aseh of two siblings, both born with high intelligence and great potential. However, while one sibling went on in Torah learning, fully utilizing his gifts to achieve Torah proficiency in many areas, his sister became ill and was hospitalized and sick for many years. During this extended period of care and rehabilitation, she was the target of several proselytization attempts by medical staff personnel, and had to build her inner strength, always remembering that G-d is the true Healer. She emerged from this ordeal strong and intact and went on to build a bayis ne’eman b’Yisrael. So who, you may ask, was the greater gibbor and deserves he greater reward?]
In the final analysis, the Master of the Universe takes all of this into account: “The Rock — His work is perfect” [Deuteronomy 32:4]. That is to say, the justice which He metes out is perfect. Everyone is given appropriate reward and punishment that factors in their particular upbringing, nature and personal circumstances. We do not need to worry that we will be held to the same standards as the next fellow. The A-lmighty knows that people are different by nature and they react to things differently; the True Judge will judge with true fairness.
Of course, this does not necessarily mean that if a person has trouble learning or if he has a short temper, he is automatically off the proverbial hook; one does not have a license to shirk learning responsibilities nor to “fly off the handle” without any spiritual or logical consequences. However, it does mean that there is no universal standard by which everyone is judged; differences in personality and natural tendencies are certainly taken into account.
According to the Akeidas Yitzchak zt”l, this is the message of the two goats and the associated drawing of lots. The word goral in Hebrew actually has two meanings: It means not only ‘lots’, but it also means ‘fate’. Yom Kippur is about repentance and forgiveness. The Almighty is sending us a message by the ritual of drawing lots over the goats. We ask: Why does this goat go to Hashem and the other one go to azazel? After all, it’s not their fault that one was chosen for this and the other was chosen for that! The message is that G-d will take all of this into account.
R’ Moshe M. Lieber (in the Artscroll Torah Treasury) writes the following entry on the two goats of Yom Kippur, with some emendations:
We can gain insight into (the two fates of the two he-goats brought on Yom Kippur) through a principle put forward by R’ Yisrael Salanter zt”l. There are two reasons a person sins: One is that he is driven by passion, the second is because he wishes to rebel against G-d. Passion can be redirected and used to study Torah and perform mitzvos properly. However, rebelliousness cannot be used in the service of G-d.
R’ Salanter then quotes R’ Yisrael HaKohen of Baltermintz zt”l, who writes that the two sin offerings represent these two motivations. The goat which symbolizes the sins of passion is offered before G-d, as we dedicate ourselves to use our passions properly. The second goat, which represents rebellious sin, is sent far into the wilderness, for it has no place in the House of G-d and in His service
R’ Moshe Mordechai Epstein zt”l makes note of the Talmud’s ruling that the two he-goats must be nearly identical in appearance, height and value [Shevuos 13b]. He adds the following homiletical insight: Two trains on parallel tracks pull out of the station at the same time – one headed east and the other headed west. Although they start out side by side, in time the gap between the two becomes greater and greater, as their combined speed in opposite directions will significantly increase the distance between them.
People, too, may start out on their life paths together. However, at some early stage in their lives, they may head out in opposite directions. While early on the differences between them may seem minor, with the passage of time, the distance between them becomes astonishing. Thus, we learn an important lesson about chinuch from the two goats of Yom Kippur. While two children may initially start out on the same platform, their direction – and ultimate destination – in life will depend mightily on how they set out and their chinuch opportunities. The great masses of assimilated Jews in the world – vs. those who received a proper and extensive Jewish education – could not be a greater testament to this prescient analogy!
A wealthy and successful lawyer visited his childhood friend, R’ Elchanan Wasserman zt”l, and was anguished by the Rosh Yeshivah’s poverty. He exclaimed, “Elchanan, you are much brighter than I! Had you become a lawyer, you would be a wealthy many today!” R’ Elchanan did not respond to the remark.
The old friends spent several hours together and then R’ Elchanan accompanied his visitor to the train. At the station two trains were waiting: A modern comfortable trains was heading east, and an old, rickety one was going west. The lawyer walked toward the old train.
R’ Elchanan stopped him, saying, “Why would you want to travel in such an uncomfortable train? Go and take the luxurious new one!”
The man stared at R’ Elchanan bewildered and answered, “Because I’m going in the other direction!”
“Nonetheless, isn’t it better to travel in a comfortable train?” R’ Elchanan continued.
The exasperated lawyer responded, “Elchanan, you’re speaking nonsense! What good is a comfortable train if it is not taking me where I want to go?”
Softly, R’ Elchanan replied, “Listen to yourself. You know that when you want to arrive at a specific destination, the comfort of the vehicle doesn’t determine whether you get on; the direction does. The main thing is to get where you have to be. You asked me why I did not become a lawyer. Of course that career would have been more lucrative, but that is not my goal in life. What good is the comfort if I don’t arrive where I am headed?”