We know the ritual of the scapegoat, the seh la’azazel, from the Torah reading for Yom kippur morning, and it comes from this week’s parashah, Aharei-Mot. On the Day of Atonement, the High Priest designates two goats for different roles. One is to be offered as the sacred day’s sacrifice on the altar; let’s call him the “winner.” The “loser” is to be sent off into the wilderness, to ‘Azazel, which was most likely ancient Israel’s goat-like wilderness demon.
How were these two goats selected? There was to be a lottery of sorts; it wasn’t as if they could be chosen based on appearance. In fact, the Mishnah (Yoma 6:1) is quite specific: “The two goats of Yom Kippur must be identical in color, in height, and in cost, and they must be purchased together.” In other words, if they couldn’t be told apart, the lottery was that much more a matter of chance. We also learn that when it came time for the scapegoat to be sent away, the community was particularly passionate about expediting this ritual. So agitated were they that they once pulled the hair of the man assigned to escorting the scapegoat into the wilderness. As a result, they had to build a ramp so that whoever walked the goat could pass through the throngs of anxious Jews unscathed.
What I described above seems oddly humorous, but as we know, the term “scapegoat” has come to mean something far different in our tradition. We have met the scapegoat, and he is us. As anti-Semitisim yet again reared its ugly head in Pomay, CA, last Shabbat, we wonder why, again, us. This Shabbat morning, as we gather in solidarity with Jews everywhere, we will try to understand, we will offer one another comfort, and we will show that we are strong, and that we cannot be consigned to the wilderness.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,