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Shabbat Shuva Parashat Ha’azinu | 5768
One Sa’ir for Hashem - From Derashot Layamim Hanoraim, pp. 66-68 - From the works of Rav Yisraeli zt”l
The sending of the sa’ir (goat) to Azazel (to be knocked off a cliff, representing casting off sins and relegating them to the forces of evil) was a unique service, very different from sacrificing to Hashem. What is the idea behind this service? Chazal explain that Hashem places Israel’s sins on Eisav (sa’ir hints at his nickname, Se’ir). However, why should Eisav suffer for our sins?
The choice of the two goats (for Hashem, for Azazel) is also unique. They must be identical and are chosen by lots. Why should lots, which represent blind luck, be used? Apparently, we want to remove human choice in the selection and leave it up to Hashem. This Divine decision and the Divine sign of atonement, when the red strip of fabric attached to the sa’ir turned white, depended on Bnei Yisrael’s status. The gemara (Yoma 39a) says that when Shimon Hatzadik was kohen gadol, the lot would come out [with the sa’ir for Hashem] on the right side and the fabric always turned white. Afterward, it would sometimes be to the right and sometimes turn white; 40 years before the Temple’s destruction it would always be to the left and remain red.
For Hashem and for Azazel are the two sole opposing powers, vying for hegemony in the world. Everything else is a type of mixture of the two. While something’s affiliation with one or the other may depend on “fortune,” it is not blind luck, but “You support my fortune (gorali)” (Tehillim 16:5). The lot is determined by Divine Providence, which depends on what we deserve: right or left, red or white. The decisions that seem to be up to world powers or the UN depend on our actions. Personal success seems to be based on luck, for which we should toil to make the best of. It need not be like that. One need not leave things up to the dominion of the Satan and Azazel but can choose to have Hashem guide him to success.
Great rabbis feared upcoming days of judgment. When Rabbi Yochanan b. Zakai fell ill, his students were surprised to find him crying. He explained that there were two paths before him, to the Garden of Eden and to Purgatory, and he did not know to which he would be taken. His students did not argue, indicating that they acknowledged that danger always exists. Apparently the two are not so far apart and one cannot go through life assured that he is going straight to the Garden of Eden. One’s obligations are great, and a small mistake can bring on countless problems.
The request, “Renew our days like previously (kedem)” refers to Adam’s state before the sin (see Eicha Rabba 5:21). The main point of the sin of the Tree of Knowledge is that it caused an intermingling of good and bad (see Nefesh Hachayim 1:6), whereby even good actions contain elements of bad, presenting themselves as protectors of good. How many times does evil attach itself to a mitzva and, for example, cause fights in a shul for a “just cause.” In truth there are sincere elements to the combatants’ positions. However, how much jealously and hatred slip in along with the good intentions?
Where is the source of evil’s power to enter the arena of mitzva? Eisav specialized in the mitzva of honoring his father and used it to justify his heinous sins. He asked his father how to take tithes on straw and salt. “Sure, I am involved in the ‘spices of life,’ but I give tithes on them. I use salt to make the world a better, more interesting place than Yaakov does.”
This approach originated with Adam’s sin. When the Torah was given, the matter was greatly rectified (see Sanhedrin 75a). When we can separate the evil from the good, we can send the evil away to Azazel, where it belongs. This is what it means to put it on Eisav’s head, to send it away from its apparent twin and send it to the source of evil.
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