Table for Five: Achrei Mot

One verse, five voices. Edited by Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist

And Aaron will cast lots for the two goats: one lot “for the Eternal”, and the other lot “for Azazel”.

–Lev. 16:8

Rabbi Ilana Grinblat
Vice President of Community Engagement, Council of Rabbis of Southern California, Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

Spiritual leader and author Eckhart Tolle noted that “after two ducks have fought each other, which never lasts long, they separate and float away in opposite directions. Then each duck will flap its wings vigorously several times, releasing the surplus energy that has accumulated during the fight.Then the ducks “float peacefully as if nothing had happened”.

In contrast, people tend to dwell on the arguments in their minds for hours, days or even years after the conflict, unable to regain their composure. “We are a lost species,” Tolle explained.

The strange ritual where the high priest symbolically placed the sins of the people on a goat and sent it into the wilderness seemed to serve the same purpose as a flapping duck. It offered people a way to release their past grievances and mistakes and come back to the present moment renewed.

How to translate this ritual into a contemporary medium? During Neilah on the beach at Open Temple, devotees tied pieces of paper with their sins written on them to balloons which were released into the sky to float in the wind.

This version is needed more than once a year. How can we release the worries of each day to find our peace? Do you create art, dance, meditate or take a walk? How do you flap your wings?

It turns out we have a lot to learn from goats and ducks.

Rabbi Michael Barclay
Spiritual Leader, Ner Simcha Temple, Westlake Village

The moment of death is as powerful as the moment of birth, and this verse reminds us of that power as it prepares us for Yom Kippur.

Although Maimonides declares that a sin cannot be transferred to the scapegoat of Azazel, this ritual awakens the deepest part of our soul and makes us hyper-aware of every moment of life through the fear of death. conscious. This truth has been lived viscerally by anyone who has been in a kapparot ritual (sacrificing a chicken before Yom Kippur), which developed from Azazel’s scapegoating after the destruction of the Temple. Although Maimonides may be right that sin is not actually transferred; awareness of our personal actions, sins, responsibilities and blessings is increased exponentially by being present at an animal sacrifice: at a conscious transition from life to death.

In our modern lives, we are removed from this powerful moment because our food just appears on our table, the leather is already tanned and made into our belts and shoes. But being present at the moment of death is something that awakens the deepest part of our soul and inspires us to live consciously and respectfully every millisecond of life.

Although rejected by animal rights activists, this Azazel ritual and its descendant, the kapparot ceremony, have power and value both individually and for the world. Someone once said that “sacrifice is where violence and the sacred intersect”. It’s terrible and beautiful at the same time, but really brings us to personal awareness and real acts of teshuvah.

Benjamin Elterman
Screenwriter, essayist, speechwriter at

The word Azazel was translated into English by William Tyndale in 1530. He took the literal translation of Azazel, “the goat [ez] who was fired [azal]and coined the word “scapegoat” which, in time, would become scapegoat. Ironically, this word has the opposite meaning of its source. Where the scapegoat refers to someone taking the blame for something they are not guilty of, the scapegoat sent to Azazel is our recognition that a part of ourselves needs to be confronted, dealt with, and chased away.

Both goats must be identical. One goat is sacrificed in the holiest place in the world and the other is thrown off a cliff. There are popular stories such as The Prince and the Pauper and The Man in the Iron Mask, which tell how twins separated at birth lead very different lives if not for the circumstances. And you could think the same idea with this mitzvah, like the thing that decides which goat goes where a lottery is. Chance.

But the Torah implies something different. While a goat is at the mercy of circumstance and chance, a human being has free will. We have a choice to give in to our evil inclination or overcome it. Seeing the separate directions in which these two identical animals go, it clearly shows us how far we can fall or how high we can soar.

Nili Isenberg
Faculty of Judaism, Pressman Academy

The Talmud (Yoma 67b) states that the goat ceremony is an example of a commandment whose reason is unknown. Certainly, this passage is full of mystery. At first glance, if one offering is “For the Lord”, for whom is the other offering? A Midrash (Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer) goes so far as to suggest that the second offering is a bribe to Satan!

More recently, the second goat in our verse has been associated with the term “scapegoat,” which carries an even heavier meaning this week of Yom HaShoah. How to pronounce the word scapegoat without thinking of the six million people who perished in the Holocaust? Rabbi Soloveitchik (1903-1993) commented on the lottery process by which two identical goats were selected for their respective destinies: “The draw…embodies the instability, uncertainty and vulnerability that characterize human life in general, and in particular the fate of the Jews. .”

Regarding the scapegoat, Maimonides (1138-1204) reflected that “there is no doubt that sins cannot be taken from the shoulder of one being and laid upon that of another, but these ceremonies serve as an allegory, to bring fear into the soul.” If so, what fear do we get when we see the suffering of a little goat? And what fear do we get from the suffering of six million? And what fear do we get from all the suffering and death in the world today? Let this fear speak to us and lead us to action.

Nicholas Losorelli
Second Year Rabbinical Student, The Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies

With Passover just behind us, having purged and cleansed our homes of chametz and re-enacted the exodus from Egypt during our Seders, the Torah Aharei Mot portion now prompts us to think about Yom Kippur (you hear it now the rabbis are already saying, ‘The big holidays are coming!!! teshuvahatonement.

In Temple times, Yom Kippur had a special feature: two goats, one marked for God and one “marked for Azazel.” Azazel? What or who the hell is Azazel? Rashi says Azazel is a remote and steep desert cliff, and others say Azazel is some kind of goat demon. Anyway of Azazel, we know that this goat is somehow physically transporting the sins of Israel into a public space of Azazel, and in this way sin is like a force tangible of nature. It is difficult for the modern mind to grasp sin as earthquake or gravity, because we often think of sin as ethical and intangible. However, aren’t our actions tangibly felt in body and mind, with far-reaching aftershocks, the consequences of which must eventually descend to earth?

Our Torah teaches us that it is helpful to make the invisible visible by materializing teshuvah, because sometimes something doesn’t seem real until we put it into words, and often isn’t resolved until we did not put it into action. So, it’s never too early to think about teshuvah, because after all, the High Holidays are always coming.

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