SALT - Friday 21 Nisan 5776, Omer 6 - April 29, 2016

  • Rav David Silverberg

            The opening section of Parashat Acharei-Mot outlines the avodat Yom Ha-kippurim – the special service performed by the kohen gadol in the Beit Ha-mikdash each year on Yom Kippur.  This service included two goats, one of which would be sacrificed as a sin-offering, with its blood sprinkled in the kodesh ha-kodashim, and another which would be sent “la-azazel” – into the wilderness east of Jerusalem, where it would be cast from a cliff.  The Torah commands that the kohen gadol perform a lottery to determine which goat would be sacrificed and which sent into the desert.

            The Gemara (Shevuot 13b and elsewhere) comments that these two goats had to be similar in appearance, size and value.  Although their respective destinies were polar opposites of one another – one offered as a sacrifice in the most sacred spot in the world, the kodesh ha-kodashim, and the other sent off a cliff in an uninhabited desert – they had to seem identical to one another.

            Some commentators (noted in Rav Shmuel Alter’s Likutei Batar Likutei) suggested that symbolically, this halakha serves to convey the simple yet vital message that piety cannot necessarily be discerned based on outward appearance or image.  Just as the two outwardly identical goats ended up in diametrically opposite places, likewise, seemingly similar people are not necessarily similar, because a person’s image does not always accurately reflect his true being and essence.  As much as we often think we are able to definitively assess other people’s character and religious stature, the truth is that what we do not see far exceeds that which we do.  Only God can judge and evaluate people with accuracy and precise fairness.  As in the case of the two goats of Yom Kippur, only He decides who is “le-Hashem” and who is “la-azazel.”

            Practically, this insight should remind us to avoid casting judgment and reaching definitive conclusions about people based on our impressions of them.  We must remember that there is so much about people that we do not know and that we will never know.  The decision of “le-Hashem” and “le-azazel” should be left to the Almighty, while we do our job of judging people favorably and treating them as beloved children of God.