This week’s parsha is Acharei-Mot Kedoshim. Chapter 16 details the Yom Kippur service, one of the most important days of the year. Within the long, detailed instructions for the service is a very peculiar ritual. The Kohen Gadol (High Priest) takes two goats and assigns one to Hashem, G-d, and one to Azazel through a lottery. The Kohen Gadol sacrifices the goat assigned to Hashem as a sin offering while an agent takes the other goat to the desert (Leviticus 16:7-10, 16:21).

What is to happen to this goat designated for Azazel? The Talmud (Yoma 67a) explains that the agent would take the goat to a cliff outside Jerusalem and push it off. The cliff had to be steep enough that, already halfway through the descent, the goat was torn to pieces.

What is the reason for this peculiar ritual? Rambam (Guide for the Perplexed 3:46) explains that the people’s sins are placed upon this goat who is pushed to its death, never to be heard from again. While transferring sins from one person to another is impossible, the ritual implies that it is possible to repent even from the worst misdeeds.

This ritual implies a lesson that is very important to us students and the world. Sometimes we have a bad assignment, quiz, test, or even exam, feel guilty, and believe we will never succeed in that course. Sometimes we treat someone badly and feel we will never reconcile with them. Sometimes we embarrass ourselves and feel that our peers will never like us again. Sometimes we commit a terrible sin and feel that Hashem will never forgive us. However, the ritual of the Azazel teaches us otherwise. Recovery is always possible. It may require a lot of hard work, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Michael Roberts,
Student, McMaster Hillel