Monday, April 18, 2005

Acharei Mot #1: The Goat to Azazel

Parshat Acharei Mot contains the description of the goat sent to Azazel. Two identical goats are taken, and a lottery is made. One goat is sacrificed to God and the other is sent to Azazel. In Vayikra 16:7-10:
ז וְלָקַח, אֶת-שְׁנֵי הַשְּׂעִירִם; וְהֶעֱמִיד אֹתָם לִפְנֵי יְהוָה, פֶּתַח אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד. 7 And he shall take the two goats, and set them before the LORD at the door of the tent of meeting.
ח וְנָתַן אַהֲרֹן עַל-שְׁנֵי הַשְּׂעִירִם, גֹּרָלוֹת--גּוֹרָל אֶחָד לַה, וְגוֹרָל אֶחָד לַעֲזָאזֵל. 8 And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats: one lot for the LORD, and the other lot for Azazel.
ט וְהִקְרִיב אַהֲרֹן אֶת-הַשָּׂעִיר, אֲשֶׁר עָלָה עָלָיו הַגּוֹרָל לַה; וְעָשָׂהוּ, חַטָּאת. 9 And Aaron shall present the goat upon which the lot fell for the LORD, and offer him for a sin-offering.
י וְהַשָּׂעִיר, אֲשֶׁר עָלָה עָלָיו הַגּוֹרָל לַעֲזָאזֵל, יָעֳמַד-חַי לִפְנֵי יְהוָה, לְכַפֵּר עָלָיו--לְשַׁלַּח אֹתוֹ לַעֲזָאזֵל, הַמִּדְבָּרָה. 10 But the goat, on which the lot fell for Azazel, shall be set alive before the LORD, to make atonement over him, to send him away for Azazel into the wilderness.
and then, a few psukim later:
כ וְכִלָּה מִכַּפֵּר אֶת-הַקֹּדֶשׁ, וְאֶת-אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד וְאֶת-הַמִּזְבֵּחַ; וְהִקְרִיב, אֶת-הַשָּׂעִיר הֶחָי. 20 And when he hath made an end of atoning for the holy place, and the tent of meeting, and the altar, he shall present the live goat.
כא וְסָמַךְ אַהֲרֹן אֶת-שְׁתֵּי יָדָו, עַל רֹאשׁ הַשָּׂעִיר הַחַי, וְהִתְוַדָּה עָלָיו אֶת-כָּל-עֲו‍ֹנֹת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאֶת-כָּל-פִּשְׁעֵיהֶם לְכָל-חַטֹּאתָם; וְנָתַן אֹתָם עַל-רֹאשׁ הַשָּׂעִיר, וְשִׁלַּח בְּיַד-אִישׁ עִתִּי הַמִּדְבָּרָה. 21 And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, even all their sins; and he shall put them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of an appointed man into the wilderness.
כב וְנָשָׂא הַשָּׂעִיר עָלָיו אֶת-כָּל-עֲו‍ֹנֹתָם, אֶל-אֶרֶץ גְּזֵרָה; וְשִׁלַּח אֶת-הַשָּׂעִיר, בַּמִּדְבָּר. 22 And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land which is cut off; and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness.
and a few psukim later:
כו וְהַמְשַׁלֵּחַ אֶת-הַשָּׂעִיר, לַעֲזָאזֵל--יְכַבֵּס בְּגָדָיו, וְרָחַץ אֶת-בְּשָׂרוֹ בַּמָּיִם; וְאַחֲרֵי-כֵן, יָבוֹא אֶל-הַמַּחֲנֶה. 26 And he that letteth go the goat for Azazel shall wash his clothes, and bathe his flesh in water, and afterward he may come into the camp.
This might look like syncretism, but Azazel is the place to which the goat is sent (a "rugged, strong" mountain), as opposed to an entity. Indeed, the next perek requires that the Israelites bring their sacrifices to the Tent of Meeting, as opposed to sacrificing them in the fields, so that it does not look like they are sacrificing to the demons of the fields, and states that any who does not is cut off from his people, to it would be hard to reconcile this attitude with sending a goat to an entity apart from God named Azazel.

{On the other hand, if one does follow e.g. Ramban that it is a type of se'ir, it is still possible to reconcile - the idea being that they are symbolically casting their sins off to a place of desolation, represented by Azazel - but not that this is an offering to Azazel.}

The role of the goat being sent to the place Azazel in the wilderness seems a symbolic sending away of sin, as it states in verse 22: "And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land which is cut off; and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness."

Its role is perhaps akin to that of the second bird of the leper which we saw in last week's parsha, Metzora. In Vayikra 14:2-7:

ב זֹאת תִּהְיֶה תּוֹרַת הַמְּצֹרָע, בְּיוֹם טָהֳרָתוֹ: וְהוּבָא, אֶל-הַכֹּהֵן. 2 This shall be the law of the leper in the day of his cleansing: he shall be brought unto the priest.
ג וְיָצָא, הַכֹּהֵן, אֶל-מִחוּץ, לַמַּחֲנֶה; וְרָאָה, הַכֹּהֵן, וְהִנֵּה נִרְפָּא נֶגַע-הַצָּרַעַת, מִן-הַצָּרוּעַ. 3 And the priest shall go forth out of the camp; and the priest shall look, and, behold, if the plague of leprosy be healed in the leper;
ד וְצִוָּה, הַכֹּהֵן, וְלָקַח לַמִּטַּהֵר שְׁתֵּי-צִפֳּרִים חַיּוֹת, טְהֹרוֹת; וְעֵץ אֶרֶז, וּשְׁנִי תוֹלַעַת וְאֵזֹב. 4 then shall the priest command to take for him that is to be cleansed two living clean birds, and cedar-wood, and scarlet, and hyssop.
ה וְצִוָּה, הַכֹּהֵן, וְשָׁחַט, אֶת-הַצִּפּוֹר הָאֶחָת--אֶל-כְּלִי-חֶרֶשׂ, עַל-מַיִם חַיִּים. 5 And the priest shall command to kill one of the birds in an earthen vessel over running water.
ו אֶת-הַצִּפֹּר הַחַיָּה יִקַּח אֹתָהּ, וְאֶת-עֵץ הָאֶרֶז וְאֶת-שְׁנִי הַתּוֹלַעַת וְאֶת-הָאֵזֹב; וְטָבַל אוֹתָם וְאֵת הַצִּפֹּר הַחַיָּה, בְּדַם הַצִּפֹּר הַשְּׁחֻטָה, עַל, הַמַּיִם הַחַיִּים. 6 As for the living bird, he shall take it, and the cedar-wood, and the scarlet, and the hyssop, and shall dip them and the living bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the running water.
ז וְהִזָּה, עַל הַמִּטַּהֵר מִן-הַצָּרַעַת--שֶׁבַע פְּעָמִים; וְטִהֲרוֹ, וְשִׁלַּח אֶת-הַצִּפֹּר הַחַיָּה עַל-פְּנֵי הַשָּׂדֶה. 7 And he shall sprinkle upon him that is to be cleansed from the leprosy seven times, and shall pronounce him clean, and shall let go the living bird into the open field.
Again, we have two identical birds, of which one is slaughtered to God, and the other, live one is sent away.

Thinking for a moment like a Sadducee rather than a Pharisee, the verses do not mention throwing the goat to Azazel backwards off a cliff to its doom. For all we know, it could be sent off to wander the wilderness. Indeed, in Jerusalem Talmud we hear the report that for many years up to the destruction of Second Temple, the goat sent to Azazel escaped the hands of the appointed man taking it into the desert, and it then wandered the desert until it was captured and eaten by bandits. The escaping of the goat every year was accidental, and a bad omen, in the Talmud's account, but perhaps this was the result of alternate interpretation of the verses, or by Sadducee kohanim, such that they "accidentally" let it slip from year to year. (They had some Sadducee priests back then.)

Also, check out the Jewish Encylopedia's writeup, which takes a different position.

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