As the affects of the fast set in and our heads begin to drop, the chazzan reaches the high point of the tefillah of Yom Kippur. The description of the Avodah which took place in the Bet Hamikdash, the meticulous actions of the Kohen Gadol, forms the centerpiece of the entire day. Yet, partly due to our ignorance and sometimes due to the time of day, we often have little patience for this section of our tefillah. It is also difficult for us to relate to the concept of sacrificial worship in the wake of our 21st century lifestyle. This raises the question of our attitude towards korbanot in general which is beyond the scope of this shiur but is definitely worth discussion. We will suffice by trying to shed some light on a couple of aspects of the Yom Kippur Avodah. [I am indebted to my friends in Elazar with whom I discussed and formulated some of the ideas discussed below.]
Three times the Kohen Gadol says a viduy – confession – during the avodah. The first two are said over his personal sacrifice, the par or cow. These confessions are intended to attain atonement for his sins, those of his family and sins committed by all his fellow Kohanim. This par is then slaughtered and its blood is sprinkled both in the Hechal, the main hall of the Bet Mikdash and in the Kodesh Kodashim. (The details of this can be found both in Vayikra 16 and also in the description of the avodah in the machzor.)
The final viduy is said over the “sair lazazel” the goat which is destined to be sent into the wilderness and thrown off a cliff. In this confession, the Kohen Gadol asks for atonement for the sins of the entire nation of Israel. This sair is then prepared to be sent to its death in the desert. Why is this korban not slaughtered and sacrificed like the other korbanot of Yom Kippur and those of the entire year? Why is it put to its death in a different way and not as part of the ceremony within the Bet Mikdash?
In order to answer this question, we return to the pesukim in Vayikra:
“Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat and confess over it all the iniquities and transgressions of the Israelites, whatever their sins, putting them on the head of the goat; and it shall be sent off to the wilderness through a designated man.” (Vayikra 16:21)
A close examination of the words of the Torah demonstrates the differences between the “sair lazazel” and a regular korban. When a person brings a korban chattat, a sin offering, they appeal for atonement for a sin committed in ignorance. The sacrifice is brought to the Bet Mikdash, the correct procedure followed and, if accompanied by the appropriate intent on behalf of the owner, affords them full atonement. According to the Ramban at the beginning of Sefer Vayikra, the limbs of the animal represent the limbs of the person who has sinned. As Hashem is not interested in human sacrifice, we use an animal instead, but we should feel as if our limbs are being committed to God. The “sair lazazel” on the other hand, seems to atone for all sins whether perfomed due to ignorance or deliberately in full knowledge of the fact that they are prohibited . Though this is a matter of discussion, the Torah’s use of the words avon and pesha indicate that the confession includes all types of sins. If this is the case, we find the only instance in the Torah of a korban being used to atone for deliberate sins.
The second difference between the “sair la’azazel” and a regular chattat is that here the Torah informs us that the sins are placed upon the goat – venatan otam al rosh has air – he shall place them (the sins) upon the head of the goat. The sair now bears the weight of all the sins of Am Yisrael. This does not appear to be the case with a normal chattat, the sacrifice of which achieves atonement, but the animal is not described as bearing the sin of the owner.
These two concepts help us understand why the “sair lazazel” is not used as part of the Avodah but is sent far away to meet its death in the wilderness. Deliberate sin has no place in the Bet Mikdash. We cannot allow the atonement for affronts on God to be part of the worship on the mizbeach and in the inner sanctuary. However, this is true only because the “sair” is said to be bearing the sins of Am Yisrael. It is not merely a symbol through which atonement is achieved – it is the essence of sin. The goat represents an affront to Hashem. This has no place in the Bet Mikdash. In the words of the Ibn Ezra on the above quoted verse:
“After the sins had been removed from Yisrael, they are as if placed on the head of the goat and transported to a place where they will no longer be remembered.”
Seforno points out that the land chosen for the “sair” to be put to death must be separated and separate from man, for if we were to throw the goat on fertile land it would now longer provide produce. This alludes to the severity of the burden being born by the “sair lazazel”.
This goat, representing all our sins, must be taken far away from the center of our world, far away from the focus of our relationship with God, and with its demise we hope to see the end of our past iniquities. We can now appreciate the joy and celebrations in the Bet Mikdash when the scarlet thread turned white and the sins of all Am Yisrael have been buried never to be seen again.
[There is an interesting parallel between this goat, chosen out of the original two and not slaughtered in the Bet Mikdash and the two birds used in the purification process of a house with tzara’at – leprosy. (Vayikra 14:49-53) There too, one bird is not slaughtered but sent away, though in that instance it is not put to death. It is worth examining this parallel which is alluded to by the Ramban in his commentary to both sections in the Torah.]
Let us conclude with a further aspect of the Avodat Yom Kippur. We are told that on emerging from the Kodesh Hakodashim the first time, the Kohen Gadol uttered a short tefillah. Later, at the conclusion of the entire avoda, he recited a further, longer tefillah. We note, therefore, that the Kohen Gadol did not pray while he was in the Kodesh Hakodashim. This could simply be because he needed all his senses to ensure that he performed the avoda as required and thus did nothing other than the service as described in the Torah. We could suggest a further interpretation. Prayer, communicating with God by mouth is one medium by which we attempt to reach the heights of Yom Kippur. Avodah in the Bet Mikdash, through our emissary, the Kohen Gadol is another. Silence, is a third. The Kodesh Kodashim was too sacred a place for mere speech. Something holier, even closer to God was needed; silence.
Today, we do not have the avoda but we do have the tefillot. In addition to this, we should allow ourselves time to reflect, to introspect, to contemplate, to be silent.
Let us hope that our tefillot and our silence will be heard and that next year we will all meet to celebrate Yom Kippur in Yerushalayim Habenuyah.
Shabbat shalom and G’mar Chatima Tova,