• Nitzotzos

Parshas Acharei Mos (Yom Kippur) - Hey, You Never Know

Updated: Jan 19, 2021

וְנָתַ֧ן אַֽהֲרֹ֛ן עַל־שְׁנֵ֥י הַשְּׂעִירִ֖ם גֹּֽרָל֑וֹת גּוֹרָ֤ל אֶחָד֙ לַֽיהֹוָ֔ה וְגוֹרָ֥ל אֶחָ֖ד לַֽעֲזָאזֵֽל: וְהִקְרִ֤יב אַֽהֲרֹן֙ אֶת־הַשָּׂעִ֔יר אֲשֶׁ֨ר עָלָ֥ה עָלָ֛יו הַגּוֹרָ֖ל לַֽיהוָֹ֑ה וְעָשָׂ֖הוּ חַטָּֽאת: וְהַשָּׂעִ֗יר אֲשֶׁר֩ עָלָ֨ה עָלָ֤יו הַגּוֹרָל֙ לַֽעֲזָאזֵ֔ל יָֽעֳמַד־חַ֛י לִפְנֵ֥י יְהוָֹ֖ה לְכַפֵּ֣ר עָלָ֑יו לְשַׁלַּ֥ח אֹת֛וֹ לַֽעֲזָאזֵ֖ל הַמִּדְבָּֽרָה:

And Aaron shall place lots upon the two he goats: one lot "For the L-rd," and the other lot, "For Azazel." And Aaron shall bring the he goat upon which the lot, "For the L-rd," came up, and designate it as a sin offering. And the he goat upon which the lot "For Azazel" came up, shall be placed while still alive, before the L-rd, to [initiate] atonement upon it, and to send it away to Azazel, into the desert. (Leviticus 16:8-10)


The central worship of the Yom Kippur involved two goats. As per the Gemara in Yoma (62a) the two goats on Yom Kippur were identical in appearance, size, and value. The Kohen Gadol draws lots that will determine the fate of the goats. On one lot, the word “To Hashem” is written; the other lot says “To Azazel.” The goat which ends up being the one “for Hashem” is taken, and slaughtered in the Beis HaMikdash. Its blood will be sprinkled in the Kodesh HaKodashim.

On the goat which ends up being "for Azazel" the Kohen Gadol performs a vidui (confession) of all the sins of Klal Yisrael. It is then escorted to out into the rocky terrain of the desert where it is pushed off the cliff, plunging the animal to its death, carrying the sins of Klal Yisrael with it.

This is a particularly strange part of the Yom Kippur Avodah. Why must the animal be twins if their fate is so different? Why the casting of lots? Why is Klal Yisrael granted atonement with the death of the Azazel goat that is thrown off a cliff?


Se'ir laAzazel and Seir laHashem - Yaakov and Eisav


The name Azazel is an interesting one.


The Rama MiPano in Sefas Emes teaches that Azazel is an acronym for ze le'umas ze asa Elokim – "God has made one as well as the other," as it says Koheles (7:14):

בְּי֤וֹם טוֹבָה֙ הֱיֵ֣ה בְט֔וֹב וּבְי֥וֹם רָעָ֖ה רְאֵ֑ה גַּ֣ם אֶת־זֶ֤ה לְעֻמַּת־זֶה֙ עָשָׂ֣ה הָֽאֱלֹהִ֔ים עַל־דִּבְרַ֗ת שֶׁלֹּ֨א יִמְצָ֧א הָֽאָדָ֛ם אַֽחֲרָ֖יו מְאֽוּמָה

On a day of good, be among the good, and on a day of adversity, ponder; God has made one corresponding to the other, to the end that man will find nothing after Him.


Everything that exists on the side of Tumah also exists on the side of Kedusha. What is the connection between this complimentary duality of זֶ֤ה לְעֻמַּת־זֶה֙ and the two goats of Yom Kippur?

The Abarbanel explains the inner meaning of the two goats by quoting a Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 66:15) which sees the twin goats as representative of a different pair of twins, Yaakov and Eisav. Just as Yaakov and Eisav were identical in height and appearance so too do the goats need to be identical (Rashi -Bereishis 25:27 teaches that until the age of 13 Yaakov and Eisav were indistinguishable). Yaakov who led a life of sanctity is represented in the Se'ir LaHashem. Eisav who led a life of sin is represented in the Sei'r la'Azazel. The eternal battle between Yaakov and Eisav is played out when the Se'ir laAzazel is thrown off the cliff in the desert.


וְנָשָׂ֨א הַשָּׂעִ֥יר עָלָ֛יו אֶת־כָּל־עֲו‍ֹנֹתָ֖ם אֶל־אֶ֣רֶץ גְּזֵרָ֑ה וְשִׁלַּ֥ח אֶת־הַשָּׂעִ֖יר בַּמִּדְבָּֽר:

The he goat shall thus carry upon itself all their sins to a precipitous land, and he shall send off the he goat into the desert. (Vayikrah 16:22)


The Se'ir La'Azazel is a reference to Eisav who eventually settles in Seir (Bereishis 36:6). The word Avononsam (עֲו‍ֹנֹתָ֖ם), their sins, can be split into two words, Avonos Tam, the sins of the Tam (simple man), a reference to Yaakov Avinu who the Torah calls an Ish Tam (Bereishis 25:27). It is the destiny of Yaakov and children to inherit the Olam Haba as symbolized in the sprinkling of the blood in the Kodesh HaKedoshim. Eisav is cast away in the desert carrying the sins (עֲו‍ֹנֹתָ֖ם) of Kla Yisrael (עֲו‍ֹנֹתָ֖ תם). The sins belong to him, not to the children of Yaakov Avinu.


The Pesikta Rabbasi (47) finds another connection between the two goats of Yom Kippur and Yaakov and Eisav is found in the story of Yitzchak giving Yaakov the berachos of the bechor. There Rivka instructs Yaakov, "Go now to the herd and bring me two good goats..." (Bereishis 27:9) Why does Rivka specifically tell Yaakov to bring two "good" goats? Rav Brechia said in the name of Rav Chelbo: "They are good for you and good for your children. They are good for you when you enter, and take the blessings from your father, and they are good for your children, when they soil themselves in sin all year round. Then they will bring these two goats, and offer them and be cleansed." Thus we see that in the merit of the two goats of Yaakov Avinu we are granted atonement on Yom Kippur.


As we examine the story of Yaakov receiving the berachos from Yitzchak, one can easily see other similarities between this story and the Yom Kippur Avodah.


1. Yaakov expresses concern to Rivka that Yitzchak will recognize him because Eisav is an אִ֣ישׁ שָׂעִ֔ר, a hairy man. The Abarbanel explains that Yaakov is the tza'ir [younger] brother of Eisav. Alternatively, this can be clearly seen as a reference to the שָּׂעִ֗יר that ultimately ends up being la'Azazel. Rivka addresses the issue by dressing Yaakov in עֹרֹת֙ גְּדָיֵ֣י הָֽעִזִּ֔ים, goat skins so that he will appear as Eisav, another clear allusion to the goats of Yom Kippur.


2. Just as the Kohen Gadol enters into the Kodesh HaKedoshim wearing special clothing, so too does Yaakov serve Yitzchak wearing the clothing of Eisav (which were the original clothing that Hashem made for Adam HaRishon).


3. When Yitzchak smelled the goat skins of Yaakov he smelled the scent of Gan Eden (Rashi Bereishis 27:27). Just as Gan Eden is guarded by two Keruvim, so too do we find the two Keruvim that adorn the Aron which resides in the Kodesh HaKedoshim. Thus we see that Yaakov's presence in front of Yitzchak could be equated with the Kohen Gadol standing in the Kodesh HaKedoshim.


The connection between the two Keruvim and the two goats of Yom Kippur is further underscored by a fascinating textual anomaly.

וְעָשִׂ֛יתָ שְׁנַ֥יִם כְּרֻבִ֖ים זָהָ֑ב מִקְשָׁה֙ תַּֽעֲשֶׂ֣ה אֹתָ֔ם מִשְּׁנֵ֖י קְצ֥וֹת הַכַּפֹּֽרֶת

And you shall make two golden cherubim; you shall make them of hammered work, from the two ends of the ark cover. (Shemos 25:18)

וְנֽוֹעַדְתִּ֣י לְךָ֘ שָׁם֒ וְדִבַּרְתִּ֨י אִתְּךָ֜ מֵעַ֣ל הַכַּפֹּ֗רֶת מִבֵּין֙ שְׁנֵ֣י הַכְּרֻבִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֖ר עַל־אֲר֣וֹן הָֽעֵדֻ֑ת אֵ֣ת כָּל־אֲשֶׁ֧ר אֲצַוֶּ֛ה אֽוֹתְךָ֖ אֶל־בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל

I will arrange My meetings with you there, and I will speak with you from atop the ark cover from between the two cherubim that are upon the Ark of the Testimony, all that I will command you unto the children of Israel. (Shemos 25:22)


It is interesting to note the change in the spelling of the word "two." At first, the Keruvim are referred to as shnayim Keruvim, while later on they are called shnei Keruvim. Rabbeinu Bachya explains that at first the Torah is referring to the quantity of Keruvim and therefore the word shnayim is used. In the second passuk, the word shnei is used to connote a similarity between the two Keruvim. In this case the similarity is that they were both comprised of gold. This is similar to the two seirim of Yom Kippur which the Torah calls shnei seirim.


The connection between the Se'ir LaAzazel and Eisav deepens when we see the Ramban (Vayikra 16:8) who sees the Se'ir laAzazel as a bribe for the Malach Samael (identified as the Malach of Eisav - Medrash Tanchuma Vayishlach, 8, Zohar Bereshit 170a). The Ramban quotes Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, (Chapter 46) which says:

"Said Samael before HaShem: Master of the Universe! Over all of the nations of the world You have Given me permission (to try to cause them to sin), but over Israel You have not Given me such license.

Hashem Said to him (Samael): You have permission on Yom HaKippurim if you can find among them sin. However, if you cannot, then you have no permission.

Therefore he (Samael) is given a bribe on Yom HaKippurim in order that he not cause the Jews to fail to offer their sacrifice…

He said before Him: Master of the Universe! You have one nation that resembles the Ministering Angels in Heaven. Just like the Ministering Angels do not eat and drink, so too the Jewish people on Yom HaKippurim do not eat and drink. Just like the Ministering Angels do not wear shoes, so too the Jewish people on Yom HaKippurim. Just like the Ministering Angels never sit, so too the Jewish people on Yom HaKippurim. Just like there is peace among the Ministering Angels, so too the Jewish people on Yom HaKippurim. Just like the Ministering Angels are free of sin, so too the Jewish people on Yom HaKippurim.

When the Holy One Blessed Be He Hears the praises of the Jewish people from their Prosecutor, He Causes the altar, the Holy of Holies, the Kohanim, the entire Jewish people from the youngest to the oldest, as well as all of their sins, to be forgiven and atoned for.


The Ramban himself offers a fascinating parable to explain why the goat is sent to Azazel (Samael) as a bribe. He compares it to someone (Klal Yisrael) who prepares a festive meal (the Avoda on Yom Kippur) for their Master (Hashem). After the meal, the Master then instructs the individual who has made the food to send a portion to the Master’s servant (Samael). The person who prepared the food (Klal Yisrael) would never have thought to do so on his own, and is not personally honoring this servant even now by following the Master’s (Hashem's) instruction. Rather, all is being given to the Master (Hashem), and it is He who in turn Is redistributing part of what He has received and sending it along to whomever He has chosen. The Master (Hashem), out of concern for the one preparing the food (Klal Yisrael), wishes all of his servants, including those who may be inclined to be most critical of the one preparing the food,  to think well of him and therefore provides a pretense for them to praise the food preparer.


With the connection between the Azazel and Samael now being apparent, one can easily see that it is not a coincidence that the Zohar (VaYikra, Parshat Emor, p.100b) writes that the confrontation between Yaakov and Eisav took place on Yom Kippur (the confrontation between Yaakov and Samael was Yom Kippur night and the final confrontation between Yaakov and Eisav took place during Neilah). And, just as the confrontation between Yaakov and Eisav ends with Yaakov and Eisav going in two different directions (Eisav to Seir and Yaakov to Succos - Bereishis 33:16,17) so too the two goats on Yom Kippur end up going in two different directions as well. The Se'ir laAzazel to Samael and Yaakov to Succos. Succos is a reference to the Beis HaMikdash and specifically to the Kodesh Hakedoshim. This explains why on the second day of of Succos the Haftorah details the dedication of the Beit HaMikdash, specifically the final preparations for sanctifying the Beis HaMikdash when the Aron was brought into the Kodesh Hakedoshim (only then was the presence of the Shechinah found in the Beis HaMikdash).

Finally, the Gematria of אִישׁ שָׂדֶה (a reference to Eisav) and אִישׁ תָּם (a reference to Yaakov) is 1371 (620+751), the same gematria as הַשָּׂעִיר לַעֲזָאזֵל and הַשָּׂעִיר לַיהֹוָה.


Mechiras Yosef and the Two Goats


Thus far we have explored the many similarities between the two goats of Yom Kippur and Yaakov and Eisav. Interestingly, there is another sibling rivalry in the Torah that contains hidden references to the Seir laAzazel and the Seir LaHashem. This is the story of Yosef being sold as a slave.


The Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim (Section III Chapter 46) connects the brothers dipping Yosef's Kesones Pasim in goats blood (Bereishis 37:31 with the goat of the Yom Kippur Avodah (Vayikrah 16:5) explaining that when someone commits a sin the sin remains before their children and their children's children, requiring atonement through a service that is analogous to that sin.


The Chain Tov (talmid of the Arizal) explains that the two goats of Yom Kippur are a tikkun for the sin of selling Yosef and indeed we see many commonalities in the story including the fact that Yosef was on trial just as Yom Kippur is a trial for Klal Yisrael.


1. The desert is the location in both the Se'ir laAzazel and the sale of Yosef.


Regarding Yosef the Torah (Bereishis 37:22) tells us:

וַיֹּ֨אמֶר אֲלֵהֶ֣ם | רְאוּבֵן֘ אַל־תִּשְׁפְּכוּ־דָם֒ הַשְׁלִ֣יכוּ אֹת֗וֹ אֶל־הַבּ֤וֹר הַזֶּה֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר בַּמִּדְבָּ֔ר וְיָ֖ד אַל־תִּשְׁלְחוּ־ב֑וֹ לְמַ֗עַן הַצִּ֤יל אֹתוֹ֙ מִיָּדָ֔ם לַֽהֲשִׁיב֖וֹ אֶל־אָבִֽיו:

And Reuben said to them, "Do not shed blood! Cast him into this pit, which is in the desert, but do not lay a hand upon him," in order to save him from their hand[s], to return him to his father.


Regarding the Se'ir laAzazel the Torah (Vayikra 16:10) tells us:

וְהַשָּׂעִ֗יר אֲשֶׁר֩ עָלָ֨ה עָלָ֤יו הַגּוֹרָל֙ לַֽעֲזָאזֵ֔ל יָֽעֳמַד־חַ֛י לִפְנֵ֥י יְהוָֹ֖ה לְכַפֵּ֣ר עָלָ֑יו לְשַׁלַּ֥ח אֹת֛וֹ לַֽעֲזָאזֵ֖ל הַמִּדְבָּֽרָה:

And the he goat upon which the lot "For Azazel" came up, shall be placed while still alive, before the Lord, to [initiate] atonement upon it, and to send it away to Azazel, into the desert.


2. In both we find a confession.


Regarding Yosef’s brothers the Torah (Bereishis 42:21) tells us:

וַיֹּֽאמְר֞וּ אִ֣ישׁ אֶל־אָחִ֗יו אֲבָל֘ אֲשֵׁמִ֣ים | אֲנַ֘חְנוּ֘ עַל־אָחִ֒ינוּ֒ אֲשֶׁ֨ר רָאִ֜ינוּ צָרַ֥ת נַפְשׁ֛וֹ בְּהִתְחַֽנְנ֥וֹ אֵלֵ֖ינוּ וְלֹ֣א שָׁמָ֑עְנוּ עַל־כֵּן֙ בָּ֣אָה אֵלֵ֔ינוּ הַצָּרָ֖ה הַזֹּֽאת:

And they said to one another, "Indeed, we are guilty for our brother, that we witnessed the distress of his soul when he begged us, and we did not listen. That is why this trouble has come upon us."


And again after Yaakov passed away we find another confession:

כֹּה־תֹֽאמְר֣וּ לְיוֹסֵ֗ף אָ֣נָּ֡א שָׂ֣א נָ֠א פֶּ֣שַׁע אַחֶ֤יךָ וְחַטָּאתָם֙ כִּֽי־רָעָ֣ה גְמָל֔וּךָ וְעַתָּה֙ שָׂ֣א נָ֔א לְפֶ֥שַׁע עַבְדֵ֖י אֱלֹהֵ֣י אָבִ֑יךָ וַיֵּ֥בְךְּ יוֹסֵ֖ף בְּדַבְּרָ֥ם אֵלָֽיו:

'So shall you say to Joseph, "Please, forgive now your brothers' transgression and their sin, for they did evil to you. Now please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father." ' " Joseph wept when they spoke to him


Regarding the Se'ir laAzazel the Torah (Vayikra 16:21) tells us

וְסָמַ֨ךְ אַֽהֲרֹ֜ן אֶת־שְׁתֵּ֣י יָדָ֗יו(כתיב ידו)עַל־רֹ֣אשׁ הַשָּׂעִיר֘ הַחַי֒ וְהִתְוַדָּ֣ה עָלָ֗יו אֶת־כָּל־עֲו‍ֹנֹת֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וְאֶת־כָּל־פִּשְׁעֵיהֶ֖ם לְכָל־חַטֹּאתָ֑ם וְנָתַ֤ן אֹתָם֙ עַל־רֹ֣אשׁ הַשָּׂעִ֔יר וְשִׁלַּ֛ח בְּיַד־אִ֥ישׁ עִתִּ֖י הַמִּדְבָּֽרָה:

And Aaron shall lean both of his hands [forcefully] upon the live he goat's head and confess upon it all the willful transgressions of the children of Israel, all their rebellions, and all their unintentional sins, and he shall place them on the he goat's head, and send it off to the desert with a timely man.


3. There is an interesting parallel in that both Yosef's journey to his brothers and the Yom Kippur Avodah both include the city of Chevron.


וַיֹּ֣אמֶר ל֗וֹ לֶךְ־נָ֨א רְאֵ֜ה אֶת־שְׁל֤וֹם אַחֶ֨יךָ֙ וְאֶת־שְׁל֣וֹם הַצֹּ֔אן וַֽהֲשִׁבֵ֖נִי דָּבָ֑ר וַיִּשְׁלָחֵ֨הוּ֙ מֵעֵ֣מֶק חֶבְר֔וֹן וַיָּבֹ֖א שְׁכֶֽמָה:

So he said to him, "Go now and see to your brothers' welfare and the welfare of the flocks, and bring me back word." So he sent him from the valley of Hebron, and he came to Shechem. (Bereishis 37:14)


אָמַר לָהֶם הַמְמֻנֶּה, צְאוּ וּרְאוּ אִם הִגִּיעַ זְמַן הַשְּׁחִיטָה. אִם הִגִּיעַ, הָרוֹאֶה אוֹמֵר, בַּרְקַאי. מַתִּתְיָא בֶּן שְׁמוּאֵל אוֹמֵר, הֵאִיר פְּנֵי כָל הַמִּזְרָח עַד שֶׁבְּחֶבְרוֹן. וְהוּא אוֹמֵר הֵן:

The officer said to them: “Go out and see whether the time for slaughtering [the morning sacrifice] has arrived.” If it had arrived then he who saw it said: “It is daylight!” Matitya ben Shmuel says: “The whole east is light.” Even unto Hebron? And he answered “Yes.” (Yoma 3:1)


4. The Kesones (tunic) worn by the Kohen reminds us of the Kesones Pasim worn by Yosef HaTzaddik.


The Gemara in Zevachim (88b) confirms this connection:

כתונת מכפרת על שפיכות דם שנאמר וישחטו שעיר עזים ויטבלו את הכתנת בדם

Rav Inyani bar Sasson says: “The kesones, atones for bloodshed, as it is stated ‘And they [Yosef's brothers] killed a goat, and dipped the tunic in the blood’ (Bereishis 37:31)


5. The Mishna in Yoma (3:4) describes the Kohen’s immersion before he changes his garments.

פֵּרְסוּ סָדִין שֶׁל בּוּץ בֵּינוֹ לְבֵין הָעָם. פָּשַׁט, יָרַד וְטָבַל, עָלָה וְנִסְתַּפֵּג. הֵבִיאוּ לוֹ בִגְדֵי זָהָב, וְלָבַשׁ וְקִדֵּשׁ יָדָיו וְרַגְלָיו. הֵבִיאוּ לוֹ אֶת הַתָּמִיד. קְרָצוֹ, וּמֵרַק אַחֵר שְׁחִיטָה עַל יָדוֹ. קִבֵּל אֶת הַדָּם וּזְרָקוֹ. נִכְנַס לְהַקְטִיר קְטֹרֶת שֶׁל שַׁחַר, וּלְהֵטִיב אֶת הַנֵּרוֹת, וּלְהַקְרִיב אֶת הָרֹאשׁ וְאֶת הָאֵבָרִים וְאֶת הַחֲבִתִּין וְאֶת הַיָּיִן:

They spread out a linen sheet between him and the people. He stripped off [his clothes], went down and immersed himself, came up and dried himself. They brought him the golden garments, he put them on and sanctified his hands and feet. They brought him the tamid. He made the required cut and some one else finished it for him. He received the blood and sprinkled it. He went inside to smoke the morning incense and to trim the lamps; And to offer up the head and the limbs and the griddle cakes and the wine.


Regarding these three activities (stripping off his clothes, went down, immersed himself and came up) we find similar language by the story of Yosef HaTzaddik's sale to Mitzrayim.


וַיְהִ֕י כַּֽאֲשֶׁר־בָּ֥א יוֹסֵ֖ף אֶל־אֶחָ֑יו וַיַּפְשִׁ֤יטוּ אֶת־יוֹסֵף֙ אֶת־כֻּתָּנְתּ֔וֹ אֶת־כְּתֹ֥נֶת הַפַּסִּ֖ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר עָלָֽיו

Now it came to pass when Joseph came to his brothers, that they stripped Joseph of his shirt, of the fine woolen coat which was upon him. (Bereishis 37:23)


וַיַּֽעַבְרוּ֩ אֲנָשִׁ֨ים מִדְיָנִ֜ים סֹֽחֲרִ֗ים וַיִּמְשְׁכוּ֙ וַיַּֽעֲל֤וּ אֶת־יוֹסֵף֙ מִן־הַבּ֔וֹר וַיִּמְכְּר֧וּ אֶת־יוֹסֵ֛ף לַיִּשְׁמְעֵאלִ֖ים בְּעֶשְׂרִ֣ים כָּ֑סֶף וַיָּבִ֥יאוּ אֶת־יוֹסֵ֖ף מִצְרָֽיְמָה:

Then Midianite men, merchants, passed by, and they pulled and lifted Joseph from the pit, and they sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty silver [pieces], and they brought Joseph (down) to Egypt. (Bereishis 37:28)


וַיִּקְח֖וּ אֶת־כְּתֹ֣נֶת יוֹסֵ֑ף וַיִּשְׁחֲטוּ֙ שְׂעִ֣יר עִזִּ֔ים וַיִּטְבְּל֥וּ אֶת־הַכֻּתֹּ֖נֶת בַּדָּֽם:

And they took Joseph's coat, and they slaughtered a kid, and they dipped the coat in the blood. (Bereishis 37:31)


5. We find similar language regarding the supposed death of Yosef and the casting of lots on Yom Kippur.

וַיַּכִּירָ֤הּ וַיֹּ֨אמֶר֙ כְּתֹ֣נֶת בְּנִ֔י חַיָּ֥ה רָעָ֖ה אֲכָלָ֑תְהוּ טָרֹ֥ף טֹרַ֖ף יוֹסֵֽף:

He recognized it, and he said, "[It is] my son's coat; a wild beast has devoured him; Joseph has surely been torn up."


The word טֹרַ֖ף is also found in the casting of the lots which determined which goat would be for laAzazel and which one would be laHashem.


טָרַף בַּקַּלְפִּי וְהֶעֱלָה שְׁנֵי גוֹרָלוֹת. אֶחָד כָּתוּב עָלָיו לַשֵּׁם וְאֶחָד כָּתוּב עָלָיו לַעֲזָאזֵל.

He shook the urn and brought up the two lots. On one was inscribed: “For the Name”, and on the other: “For Azazel.” (Yoma 4:1)


6. When Reuven returns to rescue Yosef from the pit, he is shocked to find Yosef missing. Where was Reuven while Yosef was being sold down to Mitzrayim?


Rashi (37:29) explains:

דבר אחר עסוק היה בשקו ובתעניתו על שבלבל יצועי אביו:

Another explanation: He was busy with his sackcloth and his fasting for disarranging his father’s bed (Peskikta d’Rav Kahana ch. 25.)


Why is Reuven doing Teshuva now for an aveira he had done so many years before? It is clear that Reuven understood that this day would be an auspicious time for Teshuva (as we've made clear that Yom Kippur comes to atone for Mechiras Yosef) though his timing was clearly misguided. When your brother is in a pit, it is not the appropriate time to engage in rectifying a sin from many years earlier. Perhaps we can even suggest that this can be seen from the fact that Reuven was wearing sackcloth when the halacha on Yom Kippur is that one is meant to wear Yom Tov clothing as the Shulchan Aruch paskens (OC 610:10)

הַלּוֹבֵשׁ שַׂק מֵחֲמַת תְּשׁוּבָה – צָרִיךְ לְפָשְׁטוֹ בְּיוֹם הַכִּפּוּרִים,מִפְּנֵי שֶׁהוּא יוֹם טוֹב  וְצָרִיךְ לְכַבְּדוֹ בִּכְסוּת נְקִיָּה כְּמוֹ שֶׁנִּתְבָּאֵר

One who wears sackcloth for the sake of repentance should [exchange it for festive clothing in honor of] Yom Kippur, because it is a festival and must be honored with clean clothing, as explained [above].


In the Yom Kippur Piyut of Elah Ezkarah (in Mussaf) the paitan describes the עשרה הרוגי מלכות (the Ten Martyrs) as punishment for Mechiras Yosef.


“Where are your forefathers who sold their brother,

to a caravan of Ishmaelite’s

and bartered him for shoes?!

You must submit to the judgement of Heaven,

for since the days of your fathers there have been none like you.

If they were alive, I would convict them in your presence;

but now it is you who must atone for the iniquity of your  fathers”.


The forefathers who sold their brother for a pair of shoes is a reference to Yosef being sold by his brothers for a paid of shoes. Indeed, the Navi Amos (2:6 - the Haftorah for Vayeishev - the parsha that contains Mechiras Yosef) also speaks about the fact that we continue to be punished for the sale of Yosef:

כֹּה אָמַ֣ר יְהֹוָ֔ה עַל־שְׁלֹשָׁה֙ פִּשְׁעֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וְעַל־אַרְבָּעָ֖ה לֹ֣א אֲשִׁיבֶ֑נּוּ עַל־מִכְרָ֚ם בַּכֶּ֙סֶף֙ צַדִּ֔יק וְאֶבְי֖וֹן בַּֽעֲב֥וּר נַֽעֲלָֽיִם:

So says the Almighty; 'For three transgressions of Israel I will turn away punishment, but for the fourth I will not turn away its punishment; because they sold the righteous one for silver, and the poor man for a pair of shoes.


The Tzaddik that the Navi Amos is referring to is Yosef and it is a sin for which we are still being held accountable for. Chazal (Midrash Tanchuma Vayeshev chapter 2, Pirki Drebbi Eliezer chapter 37) tell us that the money earned from the sale of Yosef went to buy the brother's shoes. (The Megaleh Amukos (Vayeshev) points out that the sale of Yosef is immediately followed by the story of Yehuda's children performing the Mitzvah of Yibum (Levirate marriage). The clear connection between these two stories is that if a person does not want to marry his deceased brother's wife then he performs Chalitzah, spitting in the shoe.) On Yom Kippur we are denied five bodily needs: eating, marital relations, bathing, anointing and the wearing of leather shoes. The simple explanation is that these abstentions are afflictions but perhaps we can suggest a deeper explanation as well.


Shoes have a meaningful symbolism in the Torah. We already mentioned that they are a critical factor in the performance of Chalitzah and we also find that Hashem instructs Moshe to remove his shoes by the burning bush. The Gemara in Shabbos (129a) teaches, "A person should sell the roof beams of his house to buy shoes for his feet." The passuk in Shir HaShirim (7:2) says, "How beautiful are thy feet in sandals." Of the seven things that Rav Akiva told his son Rav Yehoshua (Pesachim 112a) , one of them was that he should not go barefoot.


What is the inner meaning of shoes? In Kabbalah the body is described as "the shoe of the soul." Just as shoes protect feet from the dirt, so too does the soul require the body as a shoe to protect it during its journey in the physical world. (Maharal Nesivos Olam, Nesivos HaAvodah chap 6. Chiddushei Agados Sanhedrin 49a). In other words, shoes represent a barrier between man and the earth, allowing us to traverse the world. On the one hand, we are obligated to walk the earth, spreading the light of God wherever we go. On the other hand, shoes represent a barrier between God and this world. Our world exists because there is a constant flow of energy from God to our world. In this fashion our world is sustained. Ordinarily this energy goes through many filters before it reaches our world but there are times when the filters are removed and as a result God's presence is clearly manifest. Sometimes we are obligated to wear shoes. God wants the separation between Him and existence so that we may discover him in this world. Other times, we are obligated to remove our shoes, experiencing the glory of a direct connection with the One above.

The purchase of shoes by Yosef's brothers represented a barrier between them and God. On Yom Kippur we rectify the sin of the Shevatim by removing our shoes so that we may come in direct contact with God who is manifest on this holy day. The removal of our shoes on Yom Kippur mirrors God's state. In this way we are granted atonement.


By now it ought to be abundantly clear that there is a deep connection between the sale of Yosef and Yom Kippur. We have seen how the two goats and the removal of shoes represent a rectification of that sale. We have also shown that there is a deep connection between the battle of Yaakov and Eisav and the two goats of Yom Kippur. Clearly, the common theme is sibling conflict. As we said, at the outset of this article זֶ֤ה לְעֻמַּת־זֶה֙, one stands opposite the other. However, two questions still remain.


What is the concept of drawing lots?


What are we meant to learn from all of this?

Lottery and Choice


What is the symbolism of a lottery in Judaism?


When someone has two choices in front of them, each option presenting a different opportunity, there is no need to make a lottery. One can use their logic and reason in order to arrive at a conclusion. For example, if a person is choosing between two different jobs and each job has particular advantages (salary, opportunities for advancement etc...) then one ought to consider there priorities and thoughtfully make a decision.


When someone has two options in front of them and each option is exactly the same there is no logic that can help us arrive at a choice. If each job offer comes with the same salary and the same opportunities for advancement... being thoughtful will not help. In such a case, when we have moved beyond the realm of logic, a lottery is an appropriate means to arrive at a conclusion. The decisor surrenders to forces that are beyond comprehension.


However, there is an even deeper way that we can consider the concept of a lottery. Up until now the example we have used is from a person who values the physical world. The question is which job will they choose? But what if we are speaking about a spiritual person. Someone who is not interested in job advancement or additional salary. Though one job may be considered superior from our perspective, to the spiritual person they are exactly the same. They simply don't care about the things we value. In other words, there are two ways we can make this evaluation. We can objectively examine the two choices and recognize that one is different than the other or we can subjectively evaluate the options and because of the elevated nature of the person the options may be exactly the same. This would be true even in the spiritual realms. From our perspective there is clearly an advantage of wisdom over foolishness. That is objectively true. But from a perspective that is above the realm of logic and reason, wisdom and foolishness could be completely equivalent. They are both limited to the realm of human comprehension.


Following this to its logical conclusion one will come to recognize that from God's perspective, even the notions of good and evil, Mitzvos and Aveiros, are exactly the same. They are only relevant to this world and God is completely beyond the restrictions of the finite world. What then is the purpose of doing a Mitzvah? If it is all the same to God, why bother doing Mitzvos?


We find in Chazal what at first glance appears to be conflicting answers to this question.


On the one hand, the performance of Mitzvos and refraining from Aveiros seems to be for God.


The Medrash in Eichah Rabbah (1:33) quotes the passuk in Bamidbar (14:17):

וְעַתָּ֕ה יִגְדַּל־נָ֖א כֹּ֣חַ אֲדֹנָ֑י כַּֽאֲשֶׁ֥ר דִּבַּ֖רְתָּ לֵאמֹֽר:

Now, please, let the strength of the Lord be increased, as You spoke, saying.


The Medrash explains:

רַבִּי יְהוּדָה בְּרַבִּי סִימוֹן בְּשֵׁם רַבִּי לֵוִי בְּרַבִּי טַרְפוֹן בִּזְּמַן שֶׁיִּשְׂרָאֵל עוֹשִׂין רְצוֹנוֹ שֶׁל הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא, מוֹסִיפִין כֹּחַ בִּגְּבוּרָה שֶׁל מַעְלָה, כְּמָה דְאַתְּ אָמַר (במדבר יד, יז): וְעַתָּה יִגְדַל נָא כֹּחַ ה'. וּבִזְמַן שֶׁאֵין עוֹשִׂין רְצוֹנוֹ שֶׁל הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא, כִּבְיָכוֹל, מַתִּישִׁין כֹּחַ גָּדוֹל שֶׁל מַעְלָן, וְהוֹלְכִין גַּם הֵם בְלֹא כֹחַ לִפְנֵי רוֹדֵף


By performing God's Mitzvos we "add on strength" to the Heavenly power. By committing Averios, we diminish the Heavenly power, so to speak.


The Sifre (Devarim 34:6, see also Pesikta d'Rav Kahane 12:6) brings several statements from Rav Shimon Bar Yochai that clearly indicate that we are focused on giving to Hashem. (Note: Taken at face value these statements may seem heretical. These are serious issues that require careful and thoughtful consideration.)


The passuk in Shemos (15:2) says:

זֶ֤ה אֵלִי֙ וְאַנְוֵ֔הוּ אֱלֹהֵ֥י אָבִ֖י וַֽאֲרֹֽמְמֶֽנְהוּ:

“This is my God and I will glorify Him”


This means: “When I acknowledge Him, He is glorified, but when I do not acknowledge Him, He is glorified only in name.”


The passuk in Devarim (32:3) says:

כִּ֛י שֵׁ֥ם יְהֹוָה֖ אֶקְרָ֑א הָב֥וּ גֹ֖דֶל לֵֽאלֹהֵֽינוּ:

“Because I proclaim the name of the Lord, [ascribe greatness to our God].”


This means: when I call His name, He is great, but when I don’t… [it is as if He is not great].


The passuk in Yeshayahu (43:10) says:

אַתֶּ֚ם עֵדַי֙ נְאֻם־יְהֹוָ֔ה וְעַבְדִּ֖י אֲשֶׁ֣ר בָּחָ֑רְתִּי לְמַ֣עַן תֵּ֠דְעוּ וְתַֽאֲמִ֨ינוּ לִ֚י וְתָבִ֙ינוּ֙ כִּֽי־אֲנִ֣י ה֔וּא לְפָנַי֙ לֹֽא־נ֣וֹצַר אֵ֔ל וְאַֽחֲרַ֖י לֹ֥א יִֽהְיֶֽה:

"You are My witnesses," says the Lord, "and My servant whom I chose," in order that you know and believe Me, and understand that I am He; before Me no god was formed and after Me none shall be.


This means: “When you are My witnesses, I am God, but when you are not My witnesses, it is as if I am not God.”


The passuk in Tehillim (123:1) says:

שִׁ֗יר הַֽמַּֽ֫עֲל֥וֹת אֵ֖לֶיךָ נָשָׂ֣אתִי אֶת־עֵינַ֑י הַ֜יֹּֽשְׁבִ֗י בַּשָּׁמָֽיִם:

A song of ascents. To You I lifted up my eyes, You Who dwell in heaven.


This means: “If it weren’t for me, it is as if You would not be sitting in the heavens.”


Clearly the implication here is our service in this world is focused on God. It matters a great deal to God whether we do His will.


On the other hand, we find in Chazal that our performance of Mitzvos and abstention from Aveiros is focused, not on God, but on advancing the human condition.


The Medrash in Bereishis Rabbah (44:1) says:

רַב אָמַר לֹא נִתְּנוּ הַמִּצְווֹת אֶלָּא לְצָרֵף בָּהֶן אֶת הַבְּרִיּוֹת, וְכִי מָה אִיכְפַּת לֵיהּ לְהַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא לְמִי שֶׁשּׁוֹחֵט מִן הַצַּוָּאר אוֹ מִי שֶׁשּׁוֹחֵט מִן הָעֹרֶף, הֱוֵי לֹא נִתְּנוּ הַמִּצְווֹת אֶלָּא לְצָרֵף בָּהֶם אֶת הַבְּרִיּוֹת.

Rav said: Were not the mitzvot given so that man might be refined by them? . Do you really think that The Holy One of Blessing cares if an animal is slaughtered by front or by the back of the neck? Therefore, mitzvot were only given to make humans better.


It is clear from this Medrash that it makes no difference to God how we slaughter an animal. The Mitzvah is focused on our own spiritual refinement and not on God at all. In many ways this is certainly the easier approach. God is not lacking in any way, why would our Mitzvos make a difference to him?


Rav Yoel Kahn (Moadim B'Chassidus, Purim) explains these varying approaches as follows. There is a dimension where God constricts (tzimztum) Himself (henceforth known as post tzimtzum) so that creation is meaningful and there is a dimension where God remains above constriction (henceforth known as pre-tzimtzum) and our world is not meaningful. From the perspective of post tzimtzum our world has value and therefore good and evil make a difference to God. If our world has value then so do our actions. Mitzvos will be rewarded and aveiros will be punished. Seen from this perspective, it is understandable that by doing a mitzvah we could make God's presence more manifest in this world and the opposite would be true of an aveira. In other words, from the perspective of post tzimtzum, our actions are God focused.


From the perspective of pre-tzimtzum, our world has no value to God. Pre-tzimtzum God is the only reality. There is no other meaningful reality. Obviously it then follows that from God's perspective there is no such thing as good and evil. Our actions, including Mitzvos and Aveiros, make no difference to God. As the passuk in Iyov (35:6,7) states:


אִם־חָ֖טָאתָ מַה־תִּפְעָל־בּ֑וֹ וְרַבּ֥וּ פְ֜שָׁעֶ֗יךָ מַה־תַּֽעֲשֶׂה־לּֽוֹ: אִם־צָ֖דַקְתָּ מַה־תִּתֶּן־ל֑וֹ א֖וֹ מַה־מִיָּֽדְךָ֥ יִקָּֽח:

If you sinned, what do you do to Him, and if your transgressions are many, what do you do to Him? If you are righteous, what do you give Him? Or what does He take from your hand?


From this perspective the only reason for Mitzvos and Averios is in order to purify ourselves.


This explains the Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 2) which states:

רַבִּי אַבָּהוּ אָמַר מִתְּחִלַּת בְּרִיָּתוֹ שֶׁל עוֹלָם צָפָה הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא בְּמַעֲשֵׂיהֶן שֶׁל צַדִּיקִים וּמַעֲשֵׂיהֶן שֶׁל רְשָׁעִים, הֲדָא הוּא דִּכְתִיב (תהלים א, ו): כִּי יוֹדֵעַ ה' דֶּרֶךְ צַדִּיקִים וְדֶרֶךְ רְשָׁעִים תֹּאבֵד. וְהָאָרֶץ הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ, אֵלּוּ מַעֲשֵׂיהֶן שֶׁל רְשָׁעִים, וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יְהִי אוֹר, אֵלּוּ מַעֲשֵׂיהֶן שֶׁל צַדִּיקִים, אֲבָל אֵינִי יוֹדֵעַ בְּאֵיזֶה מֵהֶם חָפֵץ, אִם בְּמַעֲשֵׂה אֵלּוּ אִם בְּמַעֲשֵׂה אֵלּוּ, כֵּיוָן דִּכְתִיב וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים אֶת הָאוֹר כִּי טוֹב, הֱוֵי בְּמַעֲשֵׂיהֶן שֶׁל צַדִּיקִים חָפֵץ, וְאֵינוֹ חָפֵץ בְּמַעֲשֵׂיהֶן שֶׁל רְשָׁעִים.

R’ Abahu said - from the beginning of the creation of the world the Holy One saw the actions of the righteous and the actions of the wicked. This is what is written “For the Lord knows the way of the righteous…” (Psalms 1:6) “Now the earth was astonishingly empty…” (Genesis 1:2) these are the actions of the wicked, “And God said, Let there be light…” (Genesis 1:3) these are the actions of the righteous. But I don’t know which one of them He desired, the actions of these or the actions of those. Since it is written “And God saw the light that it was good…” (Genesis 1:4). He desires the actions of the righteous and not the actions of the wicked.


How could one possibly consider that God does not desire the actions of the righteous over the wicked? The Alter Rebbe (Likutei Torah, Vayikra, 7:4), explains that the Medrash must be speaking from the perspective of pre-tzimtzum. If mitzvos and aveiros don't have any inner significance to God, it would be impossible to tell which action God prefers. Nevertheless, the Medrash makes it clear that even from this perspective God desires the actions of the righteous. But how could this be? Did we not just explain that from the pre-tzimtzum perspective our actions make no difference to God? Good and evil are equal to God?


In order to answer this question we must first define the nature of free choice. In order for a choice to be truly free there cannot be anything about the options that pull a person to one side or another. If there is a tilt to one side then the choice is influenced by the options and cannot be said to be truly free. Only when the two options are completely equivalent (objectively or subjectively as we explained earlier) can we say that the choice was absolutely free. From this perspective there is a commonality between free choice and a lottery. Both can only exist when the options are absolutely equivalent. However, this is where the commonality ends. If a person makes their decision by casting a lottery then even after the decision the two options remain equivalent. The lottery just decides which of the equivalent.options the person will follow. When a person makes a free choice the two options are no longer equivalent. Now that the choice has been made, the option they choose is transformed into the chosen option. It is the desired option. There was nothing about option A that was in any way different from option B but something about the chooser led them to choose option A. In this sense, after the choice is made, we can see that the chosen option is the beloved option. The term beloved is a critical one. The choice was not made because of any logical position but rather because the essence of the person was drawn to one option over the other. This is the very definition of love.


This is the inner meaning of the concept that Klal Yisrael is the Chosen Nation. From the perspective of the elevated nature of God, there was no difference between Klal Yisrael and any other nation. Nevertheless, Hashem made a free choice to choose Klal Yisrael and in this sense we are transformed into the Chosen Nation. It is now clear that the love that Hashem has for Klal Yisrael exists on two dimensions. From the post tzimtzum perspective, this world is real and there is a clear distinction between the nations of the world and Klal Yisrael. From the perspective of pre-tzimtzum, even when there is no distinction between Klal Yisrael the nations of the world, still Hashem chose Klal Yisrael. The choice was not a logical choice that reflected the value of Klal Yisrael over the nations of the world but a true choice born out of God's essence and a revelation of His love for Klal Yisrael. These two dimensions of love are fundamentally different. A love that is born out of a rational decision (one option was better than the other) is limited to the advantage of that option. This type of love is not only quantitatively different but also qualitatively different in as much as the love is conditional upon the advantage of that option. Should the option lose its advantage, the love would diminish accordingly. This is because the option was never truly beloved, it was only functionally better. On the other hand when something is freely chosen, not because of any advantages it has (rational) but rather because it itself is desired then the love is infinite and unconditional. The infinite essence that desired that option is capable of infinite love. Because the option was not chosen for its advantages then even when the "advantages" diminish, the infinite love remains. Pre-Matan Torah, God loved us because of a particular advantage that Klal Yisrael had over other nations. Post Matan Torah God chose Klal Yisrael themselves regardless of any advantages. We were thus transformed into the Chosen Nation.


We can now understand the Medrash above which states that God desired the actions of the righteous over the actions of the wicked even from the pre-tzimtzum perspective. In truth, there is no difference between Mitzvos and Aveiros but from God's choice of Mitzvos we see that indeed he does desire the actions of the Tzadikim over the actions of the Reshaim. This is not because there is an advantage of Mitzvos over Aveiros but purely as a function of God's desire. This is clearly seen in the language of the Medrash which says, אֲבָל אֵינִי יוֹדֵעַ בְּאֵיזֶה מֵהֶם חָפֵץ, but I did not know which one God desired. The distinction between Mitzvos and Averos is not within the realm of the known, it is a function of the essential free choice of God.


Returning to our seeming conflicting statements of Chazal regarding why we do Mitzvos (for God or for our own spiritual benefits) it is now clear that a Mitzvah is only a Mitzvah because God desired it to be so. An Aveira is only an Aveira because God desired it to be so. In this sense, when we say that a Mitzvah has "spiritual benefits" for a person, it is not because there is anything rationally intrinsic about the Mitzvah but rather because the Mitzvah is the infinite desire of God. The implication of such a notion is that the spiritual benefit of a Mitzvah is not limited to the worldly "understanding" of the Mitzvah but rather there is an infinite spiritual benefit commensurate with the fact that this Mitzvah is God's infinite desire (beyond logic and understanding).

We are now ready to understand the significance of the Yom Kippur lottery. In truth, we are not worthy of forgiveness. We have sinned and logically we ought to be found guilty. In order to merit a kapparah we must go beyond the realm of the rational and into the realm of the supra rational. We abstain from all physical pleasures so as to impel ourselves beyond the limited nature of this world. We remove our shoes so that we may enter into a direct connection with God; one that goes to God's free choice and is not limited to our behavior. In this pre-tzimtzum dimension God's love in infinite and unconditional. Our merits and demerits are of no consequence. Good and evil are equal. Only a roll of the dice separates them. The casting of the lottery to determine which goat will be sent to die in the wilderness and which goat will have its blood sprinkled in the Kodesh HaKedoshim reflects the pre-tzimztum dimension from which we will obtain forgiveness. There is no difference between the two goats. They are equivalent in every measurable sense. Only a lottery can determine which one will be laAzazel and which one will be laHashem. And so too with us. We may not deserve forgiveness from the perspective of the rational but from the perspective of the supra rational God Himself will cleanse us of our sins.


This is the inner meaning of the Mishna in Yoma (8:9) which teaches:

אמר רבי עקיבא אשריכם ישראל לפני מי אתם מיטהרין. מי מטהר אתכם אביכם שבשמים. שנאמר (יחזקאל לו, כה) וזרקתי עליבם מים טהורים וטהרתם. ואומר (ירמיה יד, ח) מקוה ישראל. מה מקוה מטהר את הטמאים. אף הקדוש ברוך הוא מטהר את ישראל

R. Akiva says, Happy are you, Israel! Before whom are you purified, and who purifies you [of your transgressions]? Your Father Who is in heaven. For it is said, "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean"; and it is also said, "The ‏ritual bath‎ [lit. Hope] of Israel is the Lord"; even as a ritual bath purifies the unclean, so does the Holy One, Blessed be He, purify Israel.


The chiddush of Rav Akiva is not that we will be granted forgiveness but that it is God Himself who does so. Just as the connection between a father and his child is essential and unconditional so too is God our loving father who chooses us not because of any advantage or benefit He may accrue but because we are essentially connected. While our relationship may fluctuate, our connection is unbreakable. This is what the Gemara in Yoma (87a) means (and the Rambam codifies this in halacha) when it says "the very day itself (Yom Kippur) atones". The essence of the day, a reflection of the essence of God, brings an atonement for Klal Yisrael.


We can now understand the connection between the lottery of Yom Kippur and the sibling rivalries of Yaakov and Eisav and Yosef and the Shevatim.


The passuk in Malachi (1:2-3) says:

אָהַ֚בְתִּי אֶתְכֶם֙ אָמַ֣ר יְהֹוָ֔ה וַֽאֲמַרְתֶּ֖ם בַּמָּ֣ה אֲהַבְתָּ֑נוּ הֲלוֹא־אָ֨ח עֵשָׂ֚ו לְיַֽעֲקֹב֙ נְאֻם־יְהֹוָ֔ה וָֽאֹהַ֖ב אֶת־יַֽעֲקֹֽב: וְאֶת־עֵשָׂ֖ו שָׂנֵ֑אתִי וָֽאָשִׂ֚ים אֶת־הָרָיו֙ שְׁמָמָ֔ה וְאֶת־נַֽחֲלָת֖וֹ לְתַנּ֥וֹת מִדְבָּֽר:

I loved you, said the Lord, and you said, "How have You loved us?" Was not Esau a brother to Jacob? says the Lord. And I loved Jacob. And I hated Esau, and I made his mountains desolate and his heritage into [a habitat for] the jackals of the desert.

Malachi 1:2-3


Yaakov and Eisav were equivalent in every way. As we said above, until 13 years old one could not tell the difference between them (Rashi on Bereishis 25:27). Chazal go so far as to say that Eisav was worthy to be called Yaakov and Yaakov was worthy to be called Eisav (Medrash Zuta Shir Hashirim 1:15). In their lives they often took on each other's personality. Eisav acted as Yaakov asking his father if salt could be tithed (Rashi ibid.). Yaakov dresses as Eisav when receiving the brachos from Yitzchak. Yitzchak himself cannot distinguish between them. In a phrase, they stand זֶ֤ה לְעֻמַּת־זֶה֙ (As the Rama MiPano pointed out this is the Roshei Teivos of Azazel). Each one totally equivalent to the other.


And yet, the passuk in Malachi teaches us that God loved Yaakov and hated Eisav. This was not because of some fundamental advantage that Yaakov had over Eisav but because of the free choice that God made to love Yaakov and not Eisav. On Yom Kippur God expresses that free choice by throwing the Se'ir laAzazal off of the cliff bearing the sins of Klal Yisrael. The prosecutor has been killed. Again, God chooses Yaakov over Eisav. We are forgiven not because we are worthy but because of a lottery.


This also explains connection between the sin of Mechiras Yosef and Yom Kippur. The Navi Amos (2:6 cited above) makes it clear that God will continue to punish us for the sale of Yosef. The Shevatim bought shoes with the profits from their sale. They lived within the boundaried confines of this world, separated from God. They could not obtain forgiveness. On Yom Kippur we seek to rectify the sale of Yosef. We remove our shoes. We are connected to God's essence. In this dimension Klal Yisrael is beloved regardless of the atrocities we may have perpetrated. Even the sale of Yosef, which heralded the exile we are currently still suffering, can be forgiven.


Such forgiveness is beyond the realm of logic. It cannot be known why God would forgive us. It is in the realm of the lottery. I guess it was appropriate that the New York lottery slogan was: "Hey, you never know."



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