Lessons of Azazel

HaRav Avigdor Miller zts"l

Judaism HaRav Avigdor Miller zts"l
HaRav Avigdor Miller zts"l
INN:Toras Avigdor

The goat which is sent to Azazel (Vayikra 16:8) on Yom Kippur is one of the strangest phenomena in theTorah.

This is a form of offering and one of the sacrifices called Kadashim, yet it has almost none of the aspects of the offerings.

But it has such efficacy that it achieves what no offerings can. All the atonement sacrifices can atone only for sins committed unwittingly (Shogeg) but not for sins that were intentionally committed.

Even unintentional sins require repentance as a condition of atonement.

But the goat of Azazel atones for everything: 1) even for willful sins (unless punishable by Karas) and 2) even if the sinner failed to repent (Rambam, Teshuvah 1:2).

Why does the goat of Azazel possess such potency?

There is another anomaly. All offerings require slaughtering, the blood is sprinkled on the altar, and some of the offering is burned on the altar.

But the goat of Azazel 1) is not slaughtered, and 2) nothing of it comes upon the altar. The sole form of service, after the casting of lots (Vayikra 16:8) and the confession of sins which the Cohen Gadol makes over the goat of Azazel (ibid. 16:21), is to lead it away and to hurl it off a mountaintop so that it is dashed to pieces, and yet it achieves a greater atonement than any offering: "The he-goat will carry away all their sins." (Vayikra 16:22) Why?

A key to this riddle is found in Yalkut Shimoni (ibid.): “The he-goat is Esav.” Esav is symbolised by the Sair (he-goat). He was born with a hairy body (Ish Sair—Breshis 27:11), and the land which he subsequently settled was called Seir (ibid. 36:8). Thus the Torah declares: "The he-goat (Sair) will carry away all their sins (Avo’notam)" which hints: Avonos Tam, the sins of Jacob, "the perfect man" (Ish Tam—Breshis 25:27).

Esav bears the sins of Jacob. This signifies: the sins of the Jews, whatever they are, are due 1) to the pernicious example provided by Esav, and 2) to the persecutions inflicted by him.

If one studies our history he will perceive that Esav's influence was the chief cause of any misdeeds among us (although Israel never was guilty of so many and so heinous sins as those of the nations). Besides idolatry, the nations have pioneered in bloodshed, immorality, frivolous pastimes and literature, atheism, false religions, and corruption of the truth in many ways.

Further, it was due to the persecution by Esav that so many Jews forsook their homes and wandered off to mingle with the nations everywhere. When we become rid of Esav's influence and persecutions, we are a perfect nation.

Therefore we are shown the solution: to be rid of the influence of Esav, as is symbolised by the procedure of the Sair of Azazel.

When it is hurled from the cliff and is dashed to pieces, then all the sins of the perfect Jacob are wiped out.

Which signifies: Be freed from the influence of the nations in every way.

The road to atonement is solely in this direction. "Also, protect Your servant from the wicked, that they should have no power over me; then I shall be perfect and be cleansed of much iniquity." (Tehillim 19:14) (Adapted from Awake, My Glory)