Rabbi Wagensberg on Parshas Acharei Mos - Kedoshim 2018
PARSHAS ACHAREI MOS - KEDOSHIM
6 Iyar, 5778; April 21, 2018
"A Tale of Two Goats"
One of the topics contained in this week's portion is the avoda of the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur in the Beis Hamikdash. During this service, there was one ceremony done with two goats. Lots were drawn, and one goat was sent La'Hashem (to God, meaning, offered as a korban in the Beis Hamikdash), and the other was sent La'azazel (thrown off the cliff of a strong and mighty mountain in the desert; Rashi Parshas Acharei Mos,16:8, based on Yoma, chap. 6, "Shnei Si-eerei", pg. 67b). Both of these goats were meant to atone for the sins of the Jewish people (Parshas Acharei Mos, 16:5-22).
One question is, why were two goats necessary for atonement? Why couldn't one goat suffice? Another question is, why were these goats treated so differently? Why was one offered as a korban in the Beis Hamikdash, whereas the other was chucked off the side of a mountain?
Another bizarre component of this service was that both goats had to be identical in color, height, price, and they had to be purchased at the same time (Mishna Yoma, chap. 6, "Shnei Si-eerei", pg. 62a). If these goats were treated so differently, why did they have to be the same?
Since we are talking about the Yom Kippur service, let us turn to the liturgy of Yom Kippur. In the middle blessing of the Silent Prayer it says, "You are the Salchan L'Yisrael (Forgiver of Israel) U'Machalan L'Shivtei Yeshurun (Pardoner of the Tribes of Yeshurun)."
There are two expressions mentioned: "Salchan L'Yisrael," and "Machalan L'Shivtei Yeshurun." Although these two expressions sound similar, there are different words that are used. What do these two expressions refer to?
The Meshech Chochmah (Rabbi Meir Simcha Hakohen of Dvinsk, Latvia, 1843-1926) explains all of this in the following way. There are two sins for which we are still paying the price for until this very day. One of them is the Chet Ha'egel (The Sin of the Golden Calf). The other is the sin of Mechiras Yosef (the sale of Yosef).
In Parshas Ki Sisa (32:34) Rashi (citing Sanhedrin, chap. 11, "Chelek", pg. 102a) says that whenever Hashem punishes us for our own sins, He adds a small dose of punishment to atone for the sin of the Golden Calf.
The Midrash Shocher Tov (Mishlei, 1) quotes Rebbi Yehoshua ben Levi who said that the Asara Harugei Malchus (Ten Martyrs) were murdered to atone for the sin of the ten brothers who sold Yosef. Rav Avin adds that this sin must be atoned for in every generation with the deaths of ten righteous people.
This all fits in very nicely with the verse that says about Hashem that He is One, "Who visits the sin of fathers upon children" (Parshas Yisro, 20:5). However, this seems to contradict the verse which says, "And sons will not be put to death because of fathers" (Parshas Ki Seitzei, 24:16). The Gemara (Berachos, chap. 1, "M'eimasai", pg. 7a) resolved this apparent contradiction by saying that when children repeat the sins of their fathers, Hashem punishes them for their own sins and for their father's sins. However, when children do not follow in the evil footsteps of their fathers, they are not punished for their fathers' sins.
The Meshech Chochmah teaches that these two sins are the paradigm examples of the two categories of sin which exist. The Chet Ha'egel was a sin Bein Adam Lamakom (between man and God). As such, it represents all sins Bein Adam Lamakom. However, the sin of Mechiras Yosef was a sin Bein Adam Lachaveiro (between man and man). As such, it represents all sins Bein Adam Lachaveiro.
Therefore, if we sin today in the category of Bein Adam Lamakom, Hashem will punish us, not just for that sin, but also for the Chet Ha'egel. Similarly, if we still sin today in the category of Bein Adam Lachaveiro, Hashem will punish us for that sin plus for the sin of Mechiras Yosef.
Therefore, Hashem commanded that we bring specifically two goats on Yom Kippur to atone for these two paradigm sins. The goat La'azazel atoned for the sin of Mechiras Yosef, whereas the goat La'Hashem atoned for the sin of the Egel.
The connection between the goat La'azazel and Mechiras Yosef is as follows. A red string was tied between the horns of the goat La'azazel (Mishna Yoma, chap. 4, "Taraf B'kilkpi", pg. 41b). This was done so that we would be able to easily identify it from getting mixed up with the goat La'Hashem, or with any other goat for that matter (Bereisa ibid). The weight of that string was two Sela-im (biblical coins; Yoma ibid, pg. 42a, Ravin in the name of Rebbi Yonasan). This weight was not arbitrary.
The Gemara (Shabbos, chap. 1, "Yitziyos HaShabbos", pg. 10b, Rava bar Machsiya in the name of Rav Chama bar Guria, in the name of Rav) teaches us that we should never favor one child over another because when Ya'akov favored Yosef over his other sons, they became jealous. One thing led to another, and before you knew it, they were slaves in Egypt. How did the other brothers recognize that Yosef was Ya'akov's favorite?
Ya'akov made coats for all of his sons. However, Ya'akov added two strips of material to Yosef's coat. Maybe they were like stripes on a sleeve giving Yosef rank above his other brothers. Those two stripes of material weighed as much as two Sela-im. It is not random that the material in Yosef's coat weighed the same as the string on the Azazel goat's horns. It comes to teach us that the goat La'azazel atoned for the sin of Mechiras Yosef.
Perhaps we could add, that the reason why the string tied around the horns of the Azazel goat was red was because Yosef's coat was dipped into blood (Parshas Vayeishev, 37:31). The red string represented that blood. Moreover, the brothers dipped Yosef's coat specifically into goat's blood (Parshas Vayeishev, 37:31) because it is so similar to human blood (Rashi citing Bereishis Rabba, Parshas Vayeishev, 84:19). This way, they would be able to trick their father Ya'akov into thinking that Yosef was devoured by a wild animal, leaving Yosef's blood stains behind on his coat. The red string on the goat's horns represented the blood of the goat that was used in Mechiras Yosef. Once again, we find a very strong connection between the Azazel goat and Mechiras Yosef, teaching that that goat atoned for sins Bein Adam Lachaveiro.
On the other hand, the goat La'Hashem atoned for the Chet Ha'egel. This explains why it was brought into the Temple itself. When asking forgiveness for a sin Bein Adam Lamakom, the best place to ask would be where the Presence of God could be felt the most. That place was the Beis Hamikdash, and especially in the Kodesh Hakadashim. We approached Hashem with that goat in order to beg for forgiveness for sins that were Bein Adam Lamakom.
However, the goat La'azazel could not have been brought into the Holy of Holies like the goat La'Hashem. This is because most of the Temple sat on the territory of Yehudah. But, the Kodesh Hakadashim sat in the territory of Binyamin (Bereisa Yoma, chap. 1, "Shivas Yamim", pg. 12a). How could we sprinkle the blood of a goat in the Holy of Holies to atone for the sin of Mechiras Yosef in the territory of Binyamin if Binyamin had nothing to do with that sin? This would have been insulting to Binyamin.
Therefore, we must find a place that all tribes had an equal connection to for the Azazel ceremony. That place was the desert. Although one could argue that the desert in which the strong and mighty cliff was found, was in Yehudah's territory, nevertheless, uncultivated desert has a status of being hefker (ownerless). It's like a big reshus harabim (public domain) that everybody has equal rights to. Since all tribes had equal rights to the desert, the goat La'azazel was done there to demonstrate that it atoned for the sin of the tribes by Mechiras Yosef.
The Shvilei Pinchas says that this explains why both goats had to be equal in color and height. When the pasuk talks about Hashem giving the Luchos to Moshe Rabbenu, the word "Luchos" is spelled without a letter vov in it (Parshas Ki Sisa, 31:18). Rashi (ibid) and the Midrash (Shemos Rabba, Parshas Ki Sisa, 41:6, Rebbi Chanina) explain that the reason for this is because, without the vov, we can read that word as "Luchas" (tablet, in the singular). This teaches us that both Tablets were the same. They were the same height, the same shape, and the same weight.
The Chofetz Chaim (Shemiras Halashon, vol. 2, chap. 27) explains the reason behind this. The Ramban (Parshas Yisro, 20:13) says that the five commandments inscribed on the right tablet are mitzvos Bein Adam Lamakom, whereas the five commandments inscribed on the left Tablet are mitzvos Bein Adam Lachaveiro.
Some people are very meticulous with mitzvos Bein Adam Lamakom. Every possible chumrah (stringency) is adhered to. However, sometimes, some of those people are very callous when it comes to the Bein Adam Lachaveiro mitzvos. Although they may be super strict when it comes to distancing themselves from chametz on Pesach, sometimes, some of those people may cut lines at the grocery store or bark nastily at a person who he perceives as moving too slowly.
On the other hand, some people are very careful with the mitzvos Bein Adam Lachaveiro. They have such big hearts that they would literally give their shirts off of their backs to any needy person. Yet, sometimes, some of those people are very casual about mitzvos Bein Adam Lamakom. They may not care so much about observing Shabbos, behaving modestly, and eating kosher.
This is why both Tablets had to be the same. To teach us that we must live like a Jew in totality. We must observe both categories of mitzvos equally. As strongly as we feel about one type of mitzva, we should feel equally strong about the other type of mitzva.
The Kamarna Rebbe (Zohar Chai, Parshas Shemos, vol. 2, pg. 164) shares a hint which supports this teaching. There are two famous verses in the Torah. One of them is about Bein Adam Lamakom, the other is about Bein Adam Lachaveiro. The Bein Adam Lamakom verse says, "V'ahavta Es Hashem Elokecha" (You must love Hashem your God). The Bein Adam Lachaveiro verse says, "V'ahavta L'reiacha Kamocha, Ani Hashem" (You must love your fellow as yourself, I am God). Both of these verses share the same gematria (numerical value; 907). This teaches us that we should treat both types of mitzvos equally. The Shvilei Pinchas says that this explains why both goats must be identical. These two goats atone for the two categories of sin: between man and God, and between man and man. Therefore, they must be the same to teach us that we must be meticulous with both categories equally.
The Meshech Chochmah says that this explains the two expressions in the liturgy on Yom Kippur. By the paradigm Bein Adam Lamakom sin, the Chet Ha'egel, it says, "This is your god Yisrael" (Parshas Ki Sisa, 32:4). The Jews were called "Yisrael." When Hashem forgave them for that sin, He said, "Salachti Kidvarechah" (I have forgiven because of your word). The word "Salachti" was used. The first expression uses those same words, as it says, "Salchan L'Yisrael." This teaches us that with these words we are asking for forgiveness in the area of Bein Adam Lamakom.
However, by the paradigm Bein Adam Lachaveiro sin of Mechiras Yosef, the Shevatim (Tribes) were guilty. The second expression uses that same word, "Shivtei" (Machalan L'Shivtei Yeshurun). Therefore, in the second expression, we are asking for forgiveness in the area of Bein Adam Lachaveiro.
Practically speaking, let's try to improve a little bit more in both types of mitzvos by picking one from each category as a pet project.
For example, in the field of Bein Adam Lamakom, let's try to pay special attention to at least one beracha a day by giving it additional concentration.
In the field of Bein Adam Lachaveiro, let's try to give at least one person a day a special smile, or a kind word. Let's give a poor fellow some money so that he can buy a meal.
So, may we all be blessed to become even more complete Jews by focusing on both types of mitzvos - between man and God and between man and man - fulfilling both Luchos of the Covenant, thus achieving a selicha for Yisrael and a mechila for Shivtei Yeshurun, atoning for the Eigel and Mechiras Yosef once and for all, and thereby deserve to witness the building of the final Beis Hamikdash and the return of the avodah of the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur.
Good Shabbos, Warmest wishes, Aba Wagensberg