Emor 5778

פרשת אחרי מות-קדושים

The Role of the “Scapegoat” in the Yom Kippur Service

Rashi on the pasuk in Bereishis, ויאמר אלקים תדשא הארץ דשא עשב מזריע זרע למינהו עץ פרי עשה פרי – “And Hashem said, ‘Let the earth cover itself with vegetation, plants that reproduce through seeds, fruit trees that are fruit…'” (Bereishis 1:11), cites the Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 5:9) that Hashem had commanded that fruit trees themselves be edible as the fruit they bear.  The earth disobeyed, generating trees that bore fruit, but which were not themselves fruit as the following pasuk says: ותוצא הארץ דשא עשב מזריע זרע למינהו ועץ עשה פרי – “And the earth brought forth grass, herb yielding seed after its kind, and tree bearing fruit (1:12).”  The fruit could be eaten but not the tree.  Consequently, Hashem punished the earth when man was banished from Gan Eden.

The commentators explain that prior to the time that natural law was definitely established, Hashem had granted the earth an element of “creative” freedom.  In addition, as the Rambam [1] states in Hilchos Yesodei Ha’Torah (2:9) the various parts of creation have a living soul and consciousness of their own existence.  It would have been otherwise impossible for an inanimate object to exhibit free will.)

In short, the command of Hashem to the earth was that the wood of any fruit bearing tree should also be edible, but the earth disobeyed by creating fruit trees whose wood was not edible.  Hence, according to this Medrash, we now understand better the pasuk of the earth’s curse which states: ולאדם אמר כי שמעת לקול אשתך ותאכל מן העץ אשר צויתיך לאמר לא תאכל ממנו ארורה האדמה בעבורך – And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you by saying, ‘“’You shall not eat of it, cursed is the ground for your sake; in sorrow shall you eat of it all the days of your life.” (Bereishis 3:17)

Still, a very obvious question confronts us.  We know that the earth was cursed for its violation of Hashem’s command not when the violation was first committed during the six days of creation, but rather later when Adam and Chava sinned and were also cursed.  Why did Hashem wait until Man sinned before punishing the earth?

Furthermore, why does the pasuk conclude its description of the third day of creation, the day that all vegetation was formed, by saying “and Hashem saw that it was good”?  If the ground did not perform to Hashem’s specifications, how could it possibly have been good?

The Apter Rav (Rabbi Avrohm Yehoshua Heschel of Apta – 1748-1825) asks why the earth sinned and for what reason did the ground have to challenge and disobey a direct order from Hashem?  The Apter Rav explains that the earth committed this violation for the sake of mankind, for it was aware that man in his feeble condition is prone to sin.  Now, if man would be the first creation to have sinned, his offense would be much greater and therefore repentance would be much more difficult to achieve.  But now since the ground already sinned, man’s crime is not as greatly augmented and it is easier for man to repent.  It can be said that the ground offered itself as a sacrifice for the sake of mankind. 

The Apter Rav takes this even further by saying that since man was created from the earth, man’s natural instincts are similar to those of what he was created from.  This can also serve as an apology for man’s misdeeds. For if his physical constitution is from raw material that is flawed and inherently disobedient, it should not be surprising that man would eventually fall into disgrace.

The Apter Rav clarifies a pasuk in Vayikra (26:42) in a similar fashion.  וזכרתי את בריתי יעקוב ואף את בריתי יצחק ואף את בריתי אברהם אזכר והארץ אזכר – and I will remember My covenant with Yaakov, and also My covenant with Yitzchock, and also My covenant with Avrohom will I remember; and I will remember the land.  What is the significance of Hashem helping us and saving us by mentioning of “and I will remember the land?”  We can appreciate that the merits of our forefathers can stand us in good stead in our times of need, but how does Hashem’s remembering the land help us in any way?

Remembering the land, the Apter Rav says, means recognizing that mankind was created from the land.  Therefore our sins ought to be mitigated since the source from which we were created was sinful even before we were formed.

This entire exegesis can be taken further as we take a close look at another pasuk.  “And when the woman saw that the tree was suitable for food and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and that the tree was appealing to wisdom, she took of its fruit and ate and gave also to her husband with her and he ate.” (Bereishis 3:6) We are told ותרא הטשה כי טוב העץ למאכל (the woman saw that the tree was suitable for food).  It appears that Chava at first was more interested in the Eitz Hadaas, (the Tree of Knowledge) itself, than in its fruit.  It can be inferred that she desired to partake of this tree because it was different then all the other trees.  The Eitz Hadaas was so lovely that even its wood appeared edible as implied by the statement that the tree seemed suitable for food.  She was convinced that the lethalness of the tree was associated with this unique quality.  This is where she erred.  For she reasoned that if this was the archetypical tree that Hashem had intended to create, that its wood was edible and all trees were to have had this characteristic in accordance with Hashem’s command, then it could not be deadly.  If Hashem’s instructions had been followed precisely then all fruit trees would have possessed this quality as well.  Surely Hashem would have never wanted to create all fruit with a deadly feature.  Chava took the serpent at his word when he made this argument and concluded that indeed she might partake of the tree without fear of consequence.  She ate of the forbidden fruit and gave it to her husband to eat as well.

Had the earth listened to the command of Hashem to make the actual trees be edible as their fruit, Chava would never have associated the lethality of the Eitz Hadaas with its attribute of being an edible wood.  Since all other trees would have been edible as well there would have been nothing exceptional about the Eitz Hadaas in regard to this trait.  Chava would have concluded that it was safe to eat from all other trees while only partaking of the Eitz Hadaas would be perilous, and she would never have listened to the serpent.

We see that the earth’s violation of Hashem’s will was the beginning and source of the eventual sin of Chava and Adam.  Therefore, Hashem waited until after that sin to curse the earth when the other participants were cursed.  “And to man He said, “Because you listened to your wife, and you ate from the tree from which I commanded you saying, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed be the ground for your sake.”

We can now see why even though Hashem saw that the earth sinned against Him, the pasuk can still say “and Hashem saw that it was good.”

The Gemarah (Pesachim 54A) teaches us that Teshuva (repentance) was created before the creation of the world.  It was the very fact of the earth’s transgression that established mankind’s defense and argument for mitigation that allowed for repentance.  This is meant by the declaration, “Hashem saw that it was ‘good’” implying for the good of Mankind that accrued the benefit that resulted from the earth’s sin.

And now onto this week’s parshah:

ונשא השעיר עליו את כל עונתם אל ארץ גזרה – “The he goat shall thus carry upon itself all their sins to a precipitous land (Vaikra 16 22).

The Rashbam (Rabbeinu Shmuel ben Meir of Troyes, 1085–1158, known as the “Rashbam”, who was the grandson of Rashi) explains the words “to a precipitous land” as meaning that it is cut off.  It is empty of vegetation.  Thus it is void from all good.

What is the nature of the Sair HaMishtaleach (the scapegoat), the sent-away goat which was dispatched to “Azazel?”  And why on Yom Kippur of all days?!  What does this have in common with the theme of the most sacred day in the Jewish calendar, the Day of Atonement?

The Zohar (Vaikra 63:A-B) explains that the other goat was not considered an “offering” but rather a “bribe” or “gift” to the Satan.  It symbolizes the source of “evil” expunged from within man and dispatched far away from the sanctity of the Jewish camp.  It is forcefully removed and sent to “Azazel” where it is thrown off a cliff to its death.  The Satan upon seeing this realizes that evil cannot prevail therefore he yields and instead becomes a defender of the Bnei Yisroel.

This can now be the explanation of this pasuk, “The he goat shall thus carry upon itself all their sins to a precipitous land.”  The goat carries all of our sins on itself, and now causes the Satan to change from our prosecutor into our own defender.  How does the goat cause this change?  “To a precipitous land,” implies that man is not solely guilty of his sins.  It is the “precipitous land” that man sprung from that is the original cause of Man’s decline.

A Gutten Shabbos,
Rabbi Sochet


[1.] Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (“Maimonides”) 1135-1204