Friday, April 27, 2012

Parshiot Acharei Mot and Kedoshim פרשיות אחרי-מות וקדושים

This D’var Torah was written in memory of the father of a friend of mine: גרשון בן אברהם. May our learning serve as a merit for his soul.

“And he shall take the two goats, and set them before Hashem at the door of the tent of meeting - וְלָקַח אֶת שְׁנֵי הַשְּׂעִירִם וְהֶעֱמִיד אֹתָם לִפְנֵי יְהוָה, פֶּתַח אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד.” (ויקרא ט"ז:ז)

In this first of this week’s two parsha readings, Acharei Mot, the procedure of the two goats is described. It is from this passage that the phrase scapegoat – שעיר לאזעזל – comes. In fact, it may be said that the poor scapegoat gets a bad rap, and the concept is one that I intend to explore in this D’var Torah.

The bare essentials as related in the text are as follows: two goats shall be taken by Aharon, the High Priest. One shall be selected to be used as a sin-offering in the temple, whereas the other shall symbolically be made to bear the people’s sins and then be sent to wander in the desert. The fates of the two goats are vastly different: one is used in a holy manner, for holy purposes, but the other suffers the indignity of being cast out away from civilisation into the wilderness.

In order to better understand this, we may refer to another intriguing incident that occurs in the bible. In chapter 18 of Kings I, a fascinating story is related. There, Elijah is faced with a split people. Unfortunately, not all the Jews were faithful to their religion and many were adherents of a god called Ba’al. It is told that Elijah challenged Ahab, the king of this sect. He invited the priests of Baal to a contest, proposing that he and they should each build an altar and lay a burnt offering thereon, and that the God who should send down fire from heaven to consume the offering should be accepted as the true God. After various unsuccessful attempts to get a favorable answer had been made by the prophets of Baal, while they were ridiculed with subtle irony by Elijah, Hashem sent fire from heaven to consume his offering. Subsequently, Hashem was recognized by Israel, and the priests of Baal were slain near the Kishon brook.

The Midrash Tanchuma relates an interesting detail on this story that is relevant to the two goats in our parsha. It is said that the cow brought by the idol-worshipers of Ba’al was reluctant to be allowed to be used in this manner.

Elijah had told the Baal worshipers, ‘Go find twin cows, from one mother, who grew up in the same barn. Cast lots, one for God and one for Baal. Then choose whichever one you want.’ Upon doing that, the cow that was left to be Elijah’s came with him right away. But the other, the one that was allocated to the Baal worshipers, wouldn’t move. Even when all 900 (!) prophets tried to push it toward the altar, it wouldn’t budge! Finally, Elijah said to the cow, ‘Go with them.’

Right in front of all those people—the prophets and everyone else—the cow answered, ‘My friend and I come from the same womb. We grew up eating the same fodder, in the same barn. He was chosen to be to be in God’s portion. God’s Name will be sanctified through him. Why was I chosen to be Baal’s and to anger my Creator?!’

Elijah responded, ‘Go with them and don’t give them an excuse to avoid my challenge. Just as God’s Name will be sanctified through my cow, so will it be sanctified through you.’ The cow was not mollified. ‘This is the advice you give?! I’m not budging from here unless you hand me over to them!’ And so Elijah did.

If we return to the story of the two goats, we may know understand the role of the scapegoat better. Although it apparently drew the ‘short straw’, it is important to note that by taking part in this ceremony, it allowed God’s name to be sanctified. I think that there’s an important lesson for all of us here. Sometimes things don’t go our way. We don’t understand why circumstances are as they are. From time to time unfortunate events occur. But when we look at the big picture, everything falls into place. It may not be readily understandable to us how our pain is good in any way, but we may trust in God that there is a bigger plan.

Sourced from: Ma’ayanei HaTorah, which in turn refers to: חוט של חסד מבעל שבט-מוסר
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom.

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