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PARASHAT ACHAREI MOT 5757
On Yom Kippur, the Jews would offer a "bribe" to the Satan so that he should not prevent their offerings to Hashem from being accepted, as the verse says, "One lot shall be drawn for Hashem and one lot shall be drawn *for Azazel* [i.e., the Satan]." (Pirkei d’Rebbi Eliezer, ch. 46)
This is the meaning of the Midrash (quoted above): In ancient times, idolaters worshipped the angels. They would bring offerings to the angels, which the angels would accept... The Torah entirely forbids accepting any angel as a godly being or serving one in any way. However, Hashem commanded that on Yom Kippur we send a goat to the desert, meaning, to the angelic power which is appointed over places of desolation. We offer a goat because among the beasts, the goat is associated with this power of desolation and barrenness, which is the source of all bloodshed and wars....
It is not intended, G-d forbid, that the "scapegoat" be accepted as an *offering* from us to that angel. Rather, we are offering the scapegoat to the Satan because G-d commanded us to do so (i.e., and not because we chose on our own to serve the Satan in this manner). This can be compared to a person who prepared a large meal for a great officer. The officer asked the host to give a nice portion to one of his servants as well. The host is not offering a portion to the servant of his own initiative; he is simply honoring the officer's wish. It is the officer -- the servant's master -- who is actually offering the portion to his servant through the host, in order that his servant, too, should enjoy the meal and should speak well of the host. (Ramban, Vayikra 16:8)
The scapegoat which is hurled to its death from atop a high cliff on Yom Kippur stands at the head of an esoteric and mysterious rite. According to the Ramban, we are in a sense "throwing a bone to the dog" to keep it from barking. Hashem ordered us to offer this goat to the prosecuting angel so that he should not speak up against the Jews on the Day of Judgment.
Such an explanation certainly leaves much to be explained. Is not the Satan one of Hashem's angels? Angels do not have free will, they must perform the will of Hashem. If Hashem does not want the Satan to prosecute, then he should not; if He does want him to, then he should –- what does it accomplish to offer it a goat? Besides, what does it help to keep the Satan quiet? Since Hashem still knows all the sins of which the Jews are guilty, why should he no longer take those sins into account when judging the people?
Undoubtedly, a fuller understanding of this enigmatic subject must
be left to the realm of the Kabbalists. Let us try, however, to understand
at least an inkling of this mystery, based on the less covert Midrashic and
It took 120 days until Hashem forgave them completely. The date of their forgiveness was designated to be Yom Kippur, a Day of Atonement for all future generations.
As Rashi tells us, however (Shmot 32:34), Hashem told the nation that their sin was not entirely forgotten. True, they were not to be punished for it at the moment, but "every future punishment to come upon the Nation of Israel will include some measure of punishment for the Sin of the Golden Calf along with it." This may be understood in the following manner:
Had the Jews had not sinned through the Golden Calf, neither they nor any of their descendants would ever have sinned. After receiving the Torah and perceiving Hashem's Presence more clearly than any prophet, they could not possibly have sinned. As the Gemara tells us (Avodah Zarah 5a), had the Jews not sinned with the Golden Calf, they would have lived forever. They would have been returned to a state in which there was no place for death or sin, just as the world was meant to be when Hashem created Adam. After the nation sinned, it became possible for them -- and for us, their descendants -- to stray from the path of Hashem and sin. For this reason, every misdeed since the time of the Sin of the Golden Calf contains an element of that early sin, since, in a sense, it is that sin which brought about all the later sins.
Rashi tells us that after Hashem forgave the people for their sin
on the tenth day of the month of Tishrei, he designated that day to be a
day of forgiveness for all of Israel throughout the generations (Rashi,
Devarim 9:18). On that date each year, Hashem once again forgives the Sin
of the Calf. By doing so, He automatically commits Himself to forgiving
*all* the sins we have done. If no punishment is dealt which does not
contain an element of punishment for that sin, then the inverse corollary
is that if the Sin of the Calf is forgiven, there is no place for
punishment for all other sins, which are simply offshoots of that original
The Ramban explains (Shmot 32:1) why Aharon chose to specifically make a Golden *Calf* when the people sought a replacement for Moshe (who they thought would never return from Mt. Sinai). Moshe Rabbeinu's assignment was to lead the Jews through the desert until they arrived at the land of Israel. His replacement would have to be able to complete this task. The form of an ox which appears on the left side of the Divine Chariot of Hashem (see Parasha Page for Bamidbar 5756) represents the powers with which Hashem administers destruction and desolation -- the powers appropriate to the task of guiding a nation through the desolation of the Wilderness, the Ramban explains. The ox of the Chariot -- and consequently the Golden Calf -- thus represents the same concept that the goat represents among the animals of the wild: the forces of destruction and barrenness.
This may be the meaning of our "sending the scapegoat to the Satan." On Yom Kippur, Hashem commands us to do an act which, if not commanded by Him, would undoubtedly be a grave act of idol worship: making an offering to the force that Hashem uses to control barrenness and desolation. In this case, though, because Hashem did, in fact, command us to do so, we are simply performing His will, like the host who sends a portion to the servant in the Ramban's metaphor. By performing this commandment, we somewhat lessen the severity of the sin that involved a very similar act: the Sin of the Golden Calf. That sin involved offering sacrifices to the power which Hashem uses for controlling desolation, but *without* Hashem Himself telling us to do so. On Yom Kippur, Hashem is commanding us to perform exactly the same act, demonstrating that such an act can indeed be done to *serve* Hashem, under the proper circumstances.
(In the language of the Gemara, this is known as "Hutar Michlalo"
-- Yoma 81a etc. A prohibited act which is "Hutar Michlalo" is deemed less
severe than one which is prohibited without exception. Another example
found in the Gemara of such a concept is the fact that although a Kohen
must perform the sacrificial service with his right hand, according to some
authorities if he uses his left hand the service is still valid and need
not be repeated. The reason for this is that Hashem did command that *one*
particular service is to be done with the left hand. Because of this, any
other service which is done with the left is acceptable, post facto --
May Hashem help us to use all of our powers for serving Him
wholeheartedly, and may He grant us insight into his timeless teachings.
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