Sending a Goat to Azazel
Sending a Goat to Azazel
Interactive Learning Module
Goat to Azazel
לגרסה בעברית של יחידת לימוד זו, לחצו
describes at length the
rituals of Yom HaKippurim
. Among the various rites and sacrifices which come to atone for and purify the nation, one in particular stands out,
the offering to Azazel
. This module will explore the goal and meaning of this ritual.
An in depth analysis of the issue can be found at
Why is the Goat sent to Azazel
. As you use this module, you are invited to compare your own analysis with the analysis found there.
Let's access the Mikraot Gedolot on
to explore the verses inside.
2. A Goat for Azazel
describe a lottery in which one goat is set aside for Hashem and one for Azazel, but they neither identify Azazel nor explain why it is being sent a goat.
What in the passage might suggest that Azazel is some sort of
? What might suggest that the name refers to a
If one adopts the first option, how and why can a sacrifice be offered to any being other than Hashem? And even if one takes the second option, what about this offering uniquely allows it to be sent outside the confines of the Mikdash?
3. Transfer of Sins
Using the verse buttons
in the column on the right, access
which describe the second half of the rite.
What do these verses suggest about the role of the goat in expiating the nation's sins? Do the verses refer to a
literal or a symbolic transferring of sin
How does the purpose of this rite
relate to the earlier ritual
prescribed for the first goat that was set aside for Hashem (described in verses 15-20)?
Do they serve the same or different functions? If the former, why the need for two goats and distinct rituals? If the latter, what is the relationship between them?
Finally, is there any significance to the choice of specifically a goat?
4. A Gift to a Demonic Being: Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer
Let's explore how our commentators answer these questions.
Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer
. Read the Midrash starting from a bit more than halfway through, from the words, "אמר סמאל לפני הקב"ה".
With whom does the Midrash identify Azazel? Why is he being sent a goat? According to the Midrash, is there a literal transfer of sin? What purpose does this play?
5. A Gift to a Demonic Being: Ramban
Now, let's return to the Mikraot Gedolot on
Compare what we saw in Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer with the approach of
here who agrees that Azazel is some form of demonic being, but attempts to
mitigate the theological problem
inherent in offering him a sacrifice. How so?
According to Ramban, why was specifically a goat chosen?
According to each of Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer and Ramban, how does this ritual assist Israel in its
quest for forgiveness and atonement
6. Extra Sanctuarial Sacrifice: R. Saadia
Unsurprisingly, not all are comfortable with the notion that supernatural demonic powers exist or that a sacrifice might be offered to them. Thus, several commentators offer alternative explanations of the rite.
R. Saadia Gaon
's Tafsir on
. With what does he identify Azazel?
He does not explain the
here, but he does explain it in his
, accessible from the Library
R. Saadia compares the name Azazel to the names of other mountains which similarly end with the superlative "אֵל", connoting strength or greatness. Do you think his comparison is valid; why or why not?
7. Extra Sanctuarial Sacrifice: R. Saadia
According to R. Saadia in his
, what is the
relationship between the two Chatat offerings
– the goat offered to Hashem and the goat sent to Azazel? Why is one brought in the
R. Saadia maintains that the first goat atones for the sins of the priests and is thus sacrificed in their abode of the Mikdash, while the second goat atones for the nation as a whole and is therefore sacrificed outside, where they reside.
What difficulty does this explanation encounter in light of
? [To return to the Mikraot Gedolot, click
8. Extra Sanctuarial Sacrifice: R. Saadia
As the verses clearly imply that the first goat, too, is connected to the sins of the nation, R. Saadia's reading is somewhat difficult and an alternative explanation might be preferred.
Let's scroll up to
and, using the
in the top red bar, select "
" so that his commentary will appear (click outside the box to return to the Mikraot Gedolot).
How does Seforno explain why the goat is offered outside the Mikdash?
9. A Scapegoat: Rashbam
Let's turn now to a third general approach.
Scroll down in the Mikraot Gedolot to
(or use the verse button column on the right side of the screen to navigate) and read
How does he understand the word Azazel?
To what does he
compare the ritual
as a whole? What does this suggest is the purpose of the rite? According to him, is the goat killed or left alive?
10. A Scapegoat: R"Y Bekhor Shor and Ralbag
Now, let's turn to
R"Y Bekhor Shor
. According to him, what is the goat's fate? What is killing it meant to accomplish? [See Ramban's understanding of the
Purpose of the Sacrifices
who adopts and applies this reasoning to sacrifices as a whole.]
Finally, scroll down to
"Show Additional Commentaries"
so that Ralbag's commentary will appear.
think that a symbolic transference of sin is crucial for the nation's repentance? What would happen had no such ritual been instituted? [See in
Purpose of the Sacrifices
that Ralbag is consistent in similarly understanding the need for the entire sacrificial process.]
In summary, we have seen three approaches to the rite:
, identify Azazel as a
which needs to be appeased before the Day of Atonement so as not harm Israel when they are being judged.
R. Saadia and Seforno
, uncomfortable with such a notion, attempt to view the sending of the goat as a
regular sacrifice to Hashem
. It is only because of the enormity of sin that the goat bears that it is sacrificed at a distance from the Mikdash.
Others view the rite more symbolically.
, looking to the leper's purification for inspiration, views it as a
sending away of impurities
R"Y Bekhor Shor and Ralbag
suggest that it acts as a
which enables the nation to start afresh with a clean slate.
12. Additional Reading
For further discussion of this topic, see:
Why is the Goat Sent To Azazel
For other topics related to Parashat Acharei Mot, see:
Parashat Acharei Mot – Topic List
For other interactive modules relating to Parashat Acharei Mot, see
Yom HaKippurim and the Service of Vayikra 16.
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