<I>Acharei Mot</I>: Divine Intervention is Not Random

The scapegoat ritual has perplexed mankind.

Aloh Naaleh,

Judaism aliyah-r.jpg
Arutz 7
The scapegoat ritual has perplexed mankind for centuries. Many commentators have tried to understand this seemingly bizarre practice. Not only does Judaism reject the idea of vicarious atonement, but the purpose of drawing lots in choosing between the two goats remains elusive.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch deemphasizes the actual sacrifice and focuses on the symbolism of the kohen's drawing lots. Man is capable of determining his own life for the better, of purifying his heart - or the opposite. The choice, as with the kohen's drawing, is in man's hands.

A survey of lotteries in Tanach (the Bible) makes this explanation difficult to understand. Lots were used in the war against Binyamin, in determining the mishmarot of the kohanim and leviim, and in delegating the responsibility of bringing firewood to the Temple. A lottery was even used to determine the eternal portion that each tribe received in Israel. In all these situations, the lots served as a fair and objective arbiter, effectively eliminating man's flawed and subjective involvement.

Seemingly, lotteries remove man's hands from the equation. How do we reconcile Rabbi Hirsch's understanding of the scapegoat lottery with the other drawings recorded in Tanach?

Lotteries aren't pure coincidence. During the forty years that Shimon HaTzaddik served as High Priest, the lot for the sacrifice always came up in his right hand. Beginning forty years before the destruction of the Temple, it never came up again in the kohen's right hand. Lots, then, are governed by Divine intervention.

If we combine Rabbi Hirsch's approach to the lottery, as symbolizing man's decision-making capabilities, with the Divine involvement in the lots, we are taught a valuable lesson. Although man determines his own fate, he is not alone. God shepherds him, as He does goats, along the path that man has chosen.

Critical national decisions are made in Israel daily; yet, we are acutely aware of the silent, but vividly palpable, Divine presence directing and shepherding us as we advance towards our national destiny.
Chana Tannenbaum made Aliyah with her family to Nof Ayalon ten years ago. She teaches Torah in many different settings to wide and varied populations.

The foregoing commentary was distributed by the Aloh Naaleh organization.