This week’s double portion presents us with a myriad of issues and topics that should occupy any Torah study class for hours. A series of powerful laws and prohibitions make up Leviticus 18 and the always meaningful digest of ritual, moral, ethical and social laws comprise one of the most famous of Chapters, Leviticus 19. But the portion begins in Leviticus 16 with the description of a rather interesting ritual, performed by the High Priest, that set the stage for the day we know as Yom Kippur. The expiation of sin was performed via the use of two goats; one kept as a sacrifice and marked for God; and one, symbolic of the sins and wrong doings of the community, which was expelled from the camp. The ritual is related in the opening verses of Leviticus 16:1-10. The goat that was expelled, was designated for “Azazel”; who according to some, referred to a demon whose job it was to entice people to sin.
What also is sometimes overlooked is the opening of the portion which tells us that this event took place “after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they drew too close to the presence of God” (Lev.16:1) Could there be a link? What may this mean for us? As we get older and often look back upon events in our life, we often reflect on that old challenge of “if only I had done this!” Sometime we carry with us hurts and feelings that hold us back, that nag at us and prevent us from moving forward in our life. Sometimes these feelings get so intense that they cause illness as we internalize them. We cannot “let go” of them.
In a discussion on this passage in my Torah study class this week, we spent some time on the symbolism of that goat that was expelled from the camp. It carried the weight of past sins, of wrongdoings of the community. It was sent away in this rather elaborate ceremony. Could this also represent for us the need to “let go” of the past sins and hurts and wrongdoings that posses us? Indeed, is this not what much of modern Yom Kippur is? Can this be another way that Judaism says to us that to be bound by past mistakes, hurts and choices that went wrong is to be held hostage by the past. SOme of these choices and events we may have participated in, some we encountered in a random way, as part of living life.This has particular meaning for people dealing with death, like Aaron and his sons. One of the meanings can be that there comesa time to cease moorning and to enter back into life. To hold on to the “what was” is to court illness of body, mind and soul. Thus, we are instructed to “let go” of that which we cannot control, of pasts that we cannot change and maybe relationships and situations that can no longer be viable. Again, change is a constant aspect of life and try as we might, we cannot “stop” the clock of time, go back and re write what once was. So, we create a means to “let go” of those things that bind us.
This can be liberating. Once again, the choice to move forward rests with us.
Rabbi Richard F Address