Again we have a double portion, Achrei Mot and Kedoshim. Today I am focused on Achrei Mot – the scapegoat. The portion tells us there are two goats. One is for sacrifice. The other, all the sins of Israel are place upon its head and it is driven from the camp and thrown off a cliff. What is of interest is mainly a lesson in linguistics.
The Torah says that the priest puts his hand – yahdoh – on the goat’s head. But we know from Jewish tradition that it is really both hands. Why this discrepancy? It happens often in Torah study as well as other books of the bible.There is a difference between how it is written and how it is read/spoken/chanted. The easiest example is when it is written yud hay vav hay but we speak Adonai. So here the written word is yahdoh, the singular, but we speak yahdav, the plural – we understand it is hands. The midrashim on why are many and that is for another day.
Here I am focusing on the smicha, the putting of hands on the goat’s head. The gematria, the numerical value of the word yadoh is multiple so it informs our understanding that it is both hands. We know that one hand, or side, represents the might or judgment of God – gevurah- and the other represents mercy or grace – chesed. So it is as if mercy is needed to have an effect on judgment.
Looking at it another way, every human has an “animal” soul and an eternal or heavenly soul. The animal soul is our basest instincts – yeitzehr hara – evil inclinations. The animal soul is concerned with eating, sleeping, fighting, procreating. People will also revert to their basest instincts (learn more at Yeshiva shuvu). But that inclination needs to elevated to the higher existence of the eternal soul; a more spiritual existence.
So the placing of both hands on the goat is to say that you want the sins to be transformed into the mitzvot of the people, to bring the base up to the spiritual. What a wonderful object lesson – everything we do must be concerned with trying to elevate our most base impulses to a higher level. I find it interesting that our “base” instincts are not inherently bad. People need to eat, to procreate, to fight to defend ourselves and those we care about. It is the purpose to which we put these instincts. For example so called “deviant” sexual behavior. We acknowledge that there is nothing bad about intimacy in the context of marriage.
There is a daily battle to try to elevate ourselves to a more spiritual level. The apostle Paul says “I do what I don’t want to do”. The great battle of the soul is to have our good inclinations be victorious over our evil inclinations. Of course there is a parallel with the scapegoat being taken outside the camp and killed, as well as an analogy to the Messiah.
I pray that you will dive in, that this will create in you a hunger to continue to study, to continue digging. I discover something new although I read the same passage last year. I hope you do too. To study more in depth with me, please click on the Kosher Pastor link on this page. We are offering a massive discount currently – $400 for seven courses – a bachelor’s level education! For the deeper and multi year study in our yeshiva, please visit shuvu.tv.
Be well, stay safe, Shalom and Kol Tuv.