The wondrous two he-goats

Is atonement for sins between man and Hashem dependent on his having appeased his fellow man, for any sins against him?

Danny Ginsbourg ,

Danny Ginsbourg
Danny Ginsbourg

In Parshat Acharei Mot, the Kohen Gadol, as part of his Avoda on Yom Kippur, is commanded(16:5-22):

From the assembly of the Children of Israel he shall take two he-goats for a sin-offering..;and stand them before Hashem;Aaron shall place lots upon the two he-goats: one lot ‘for Hashem’, and one lot ‘for Azazel’;..He shall slaughter the he-goat of the people’- the one ‘for Hashem’- ‘and sprinkle its blood upon the Ark Cover;Thus shall he provide atonement upon the Sanctuary for the contaminations of the Children of Israel..;When he is finished atoning for the Sanctuary, the Tent of Meeting, and the Altar, he shall bring the living he-goat..lean his two hands upon the head of the living he-goat, and confess upon it all the iniquities of the Children of Israel, and all their rebellious sins among all their sins, and place them upon the head of the he-goat, and send it with a designated man to the desert;The he-goat will bear upon itself all their iniquities to an uninhabited land, and he shall send the he-goat to the desert’.

Our Sages expound that the ‘he-goat to Azazel’, was then pushed down from a high rock in the desert, and had become ‘a mass of limbs’, halfway down this descent.

Asks Rav Pinchas Friedman:’Why did Hashem command that two he-goats be brought to atone for the sins of Bnei Israel; why could not Aaron bring atonement on one he-goat?’

He answers:’As Rashi comments, the he-goat to Hashem, was specifically to ‘provide atonement for the Sanctuary’: ‘for the sin of entering the Sanctuary when ritually impure, either unknowingly, or knowingly’.
‘The ‘living’ he-goat was to atone for all other sins.

However, since this he-goat atoned for ALL sins, both grievous and less serious, why could it not also atone for the sin of improperly entering the Sanctuary? Why did that require a separate offering to atone?

‘To answer that, let us raise another question:Since one he-goat was an offering ‘to Hashem’, and the other ‘to Azazel’, why did they have to be equal in price, and in appearance?’

This requires a deeper understanding of the ‘purpose‘ of these two he-goats.

The commentators, in their holy wisdom, proffer many answers; but let us ‘feed our souls’, with the beautiful insight of the Meshech Chochma.

He first brings the special bracha which our Sages inserted in the Amidah, in the Shacharit and the Mincha, on Yom Kippur:’For you are סלחן: forgiving to Israel, ומחלן: and absolving to שבטי ישורון: the Tribes of Yeshuron, in each generation’.

He explains:’Just as the sin of the Golden Calf מתעורר: ‘wakes up’ in each generation, so too, the sin of the sale of Yosef, by his brothers.

‘Our Sages ascribe the decree of death on the ‘Ten הרוגי מלכות׳, which are recited in the Yom Kippur service, as being a punishment for that sale.

‘Whilst children are not punished for the sins of their fathers per se, they ARE if they themselves persist in those very same sins.

Therefore, since every generation still commits sins between man and Hashem, this awakens the sin of the Golden Calf, which, too, was a sin ‘between man and Hashem’.

And, similarly, since in each generation, ר׳ל, there are also still sins ‘between man and fellow man’, these awaken the earlier sin ‘between man and fellow man’: the sin of the sale of Yosef, by his brothers- ‘the Tribes of Yeshuron’.

‘These two sins are therefore, הציר המרכזי: ‘the central representatives’ of all sins, which are divided into two ‘categories’: sins against Hashem, AND sins against our fellow man.

‘Therefore, Hashem commanded that on each Day of Atonement, we continue to seek atonement for both those sins: the sin of the Golden Calf, which is the שורש: the ‘root’ of all sins between man and Hashem, AND the sin of the sale of Yosef, which is the ‘root’ of all sins between man and his fellow man.

‘Our Sages alluded to this, saying:’Sins between man and Hashem, Yom Kippur atones for;?sins between man and fellow man, Yom Kippur does not atone for, until he appeases the person he offended against’.

The poskim raise the following intriguing question:’Is atonement for sins between man and Hashem תלוי: dependent on his having appeased his fellow man, for any sins against him?

The Chinuch notes that every sin against our fellow man, is also a sun against Hashem, because he has transgressed Hashem’s Mitzvot.

Therefore, he concludes:’If the sinner has not appeased the person against whom he sinned, he cannot obtain atonement for the offence against Hashem! For שתים רעות: two bad things are in his sin against his fellow man: what he has done to him, and, at the same time, that he has transgressed against Hashem’s commandment.‘

‘So, until he appeases his fellow man, his sin against Hashem, is not forgiven’

Back to the two he-goats.

Rav Friedman, based on the exposition of the Meshech Chochma, explains why Hashem commanded that two he-goats be brought on Yon Kippur- and why one would not have sufficed.

‘The Divine Wisdom divided the atonement for sins to the two he-goats: the purpose of the he-goat ‘to Hashem’ was to atone for sins between man and Hashem, AND the he-goat ‘to Azazel’, was to atone for sins between man and fellow man.

‘For this reason, the he-goat ‘to Hashem’ was offered in the Temple, and its blood sprinkled there, to seek atonement for sins between man and Hashem, as symbolized by sins against the sanctity of the Temple.

On the other hand, the other he-goat was not offered in the Temple, so that the Attribute of Judgement would not be aroused against Bnei Israel, for their sins against their fellow man.

Let us sweeten our learning, by raising yet another question:How can the וידוי : the confession of the Kohen Gadol, atone for all the sins of the people? Surely the ‘confessor’ has to KNOW what sins he committed, so as to seek forgiveness for them!

How, then, can the Kohen Gadol, who clearly does NOT know the specific sins of the people, whose sins he is confessing!

Answers Rav Avigdor Nenlbenzahl:’Aaron Hakohen felt the pain of every individual, as if it was his own; so too, the sin of every Jew weighed heavily on his heart.

‘And, as a ‘reward’, Hashem gave him the ‘power’ to confess the sins of each person, and to accept it, as that person’s vidui, on the Day of Atonement.

And, this special ‘gift’ was passed on to every subsequent Kohen Gadol’.

A parting thought based on an insight from the Chafetz Chaim:‘The two Luchot on which the Ten Commandments were inscribed, were equal in size; on the Right Luach, the five Mitzvot were all Mitzvot between man and Hashem; on the Left Luchot, the remaining five Mitzvot were all Mitzvot between man and fellow man.

Surely the Divine Teaching from this is that, in the eyes of Hashem, both ‘kinds’ of Mitzvot are equal;?we are commanded to be as punctilious in observing Mitzvot between man and fellow man, as we are in observing Mitzvot between man and Hashem’.

This, surely, is the message of the two identical he-goats; indeed, of Yom Kippur!

לרפואת נועם עליזה בת זהבה רבקה ונחום אלימלך רפאל בן זהבה רבקה, בתוך שאר חולי עמנו.

ובברכת גמר חתימה טובה לכל עם ישראל.