Looks Can Be Deceiving

Rabbi Wagensberg
Yom Kippur
Looks Can Be Deceiving


Part of the service of the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) on Yom Kippur is the two goats upon which lots are cast, sending one of them as a sin offering to God while the other gets sent "La'Azazel" (thrown off of a cliff; Lv. 16:5-10).

There are a variety of interpretations presented in order to explain the word "Azazel." Rashi (citing Toras Kohanim, Lv. 16:28) says that "Azazel" is a contracted word which can be broken down to two shorter words, Az (strong) and "El" (mighty), characterizing the cliff that it was thrown off of -a mighty rock.

The Talmud (Yoma, chap. 6, ""Shnei Seirei", pg. 67b, Rebbi Yishmael) describes "Azazel" as a constricted word which can be broken down to two different short words, "Uzah" and "Aza-el." These two words are actually the names of two angels who "fell" from Heaven. After assuming a physical body, these two angels sinned in the area of immorality. By naming one of the goats "Azazel" it indicates that this goat atones for the sin of immorality.

The Midrash (Pirkei D'Rebbi Eliezer, chap. 46) explains that "Azazel" is an alternative name for the Satan. This goat is like a bribe to the Satan in order to prevent him from prosecuting against the Jewish people on Yom Kippur.

Today, with the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash (Temple) and with the absence of these two goat offerings, we must explore the relevance of these two goats in our personal lives.

Additionally, the Mishnah (Mishnah Yoma, chap. 6, "Shnei Seirei", Mishnah 1, pg. 62a) tells us that these two goats must be identical in color, height, cost, and they must be purchased at the same time.

This, too, is questionable. If one goat is offered to God and the other is thrown to Azazel, why must they be indistinguishable? On the contrary, it would seem that it would be better for them to be different, displaying their diverse roles.

At the end of the Neilah service on Yom Kippur, we raise our voices and customarily call out "Shemah Yisrael" (Hear O Israel; Dt. 6:4) verse once, the "Baruch Shem" (blessed is the Name; Bereishis Rabba, 98:3) sentence three times, and the "Hashem Hu Haelokim" (Hashem is the God; Kings 1, 18:39) verse seven times (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 623:6). The commonality of these three statements is that they all speak about the unity of God.

Why were we instructed to mention the unity of God at the conclusion of Yom Kippur?

In order to begin addressing these issues, let us share a teaching from the Megaleh Amukos.

There are two verses in the Torah that are unique with respect to one letter in each verse that is written much larger than the average letter is written. One verse is the famous "Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad" (Hear O Israel, Hashem our God Hashem is One; Dt.6:4). The final letter of that verse (the dalet of the word Echad - One) is written much larger than any other dalet out there.

The other verse says, "Lo Sishtachaveh L'el Acher" (You may not prostrate yourselves to another god; Ex. 34:14). The final letter of that verse (the reish of the word Acher - other) is written much larger than any other reish out there.

One explanation for these two letters being enlarged can be understood by analyzing the Hebrew alphabet books given to children who study in "Cheider" or in Talmud Torah (a religious school for children). Typically, the letters of the Hebrew alphabet are written large so that the children will not come to make a mistake between the letters. By magnifying the letters, they are easily discernable. This way, they will not accidentally mix up two letters that look alike.

Similarly, in the text (Torah) that God gave His children (the Jewish people) Hashem magnified the letters dalet and reish in their perspective verses so that we should not come to exchange them. If we would read either verse the wrong way, it would be heresy.

For example, imagine reading the "Shema Yisrael" verse by substituting the final dalet with a reish. The verse would conclude with the words "Hashem Acher" (God is another). That would be disastrous!

Imagine reading the "Lo Sishtachaveh" verse by substituting the final reish with a dalet. The verse would state, "Lo Sishtachaveh L'el Echad" (do not bow down to the One God). That would be tragic!

Therefore, these two letters were written large so that no mistake would be made between them (Megaleh Amukos, citing Kadmonim, based on Vayikra Rabba, 19:2).

This approach explains what God said to Moshe at Mount Sinai. Hashem said, "Reid (descend) and warn the people lest they break through, and a multitude of them will fall" (Ex. 19:21). The simplistic understanding of this verse is that Hashem told Moshe to warn the people not to rush the mountain while the Divine Presence is on it, as this would result in their deaths because they are not on the spiritual level to tolerate God's Presence.

However, on a deeper read of this verse, Hashem hinted to Moshe to warn the people not to confuse the letters reish and dalet. We can see this from the word "reid" (descend). This word is spelled with the letters reish and dalet. In other words, Hashem said that Moshe should go and warn the people about the letters "reid" (reish and dalet), lest they exchange them, causing a multitude of them to fall because of the sin of idolatry (Megaleh Amukos).

It is important to point out that not only regarding the sin of idolatry does one err by switching a dalet with a reish, but with any mitzvah it is possible to make this mistake. For example, if a person does a mitzvah for honor or wealth, it is not serving the One God, rather, it is serving the honor, the wealth, or the person himself. Such a person does not read the verse as "Hashem Echad" (God is One), but rather, he reads it as "Hashem Acher" (there is another god). That other "god" is the honor, the wealth, or the person himself (Agra D'Kallah, based on Chovas Halevavos, Sha'ar Yichud Hama'aseh, chap. 4).

Getting back to actual idolatry, we will be able to understand a deeper message in a verse that appears after the sin of the Golden Calf. Hashem said to Moshe, "Lech reid" (go down; Ex. 32:7). The Talmud (Berachos, chap. 5, "Ein Omdin", pg. 32a) asks what Hashem meant by saying "Go down." Rebbi Elazar says that Hashem meant "Reid mei-gidulaschah" (go down from your greatness). The simple meaning of this is that if the people fell spiritually, then, as their leader, Moshe would also have to be demoted.

However, God was also hinting to Moshe that the two "gadol" (large) letters hinted to in the word "reid" (reish and dalet) just went "down" the drain because the people have worshipped an "El Acher" (another God). The people did not just pay allegiance to "Hashem Echad," but rather worshipped the Golden Calf as well (Agra D'Kallah).

Although the Jewish people sinned with the Golden Calf, mixing up the dalet and reish warning of the Torah, they were still forgiven on Yom Kippur (Rashi, Dt. 9:18, citing Seder Olam, chap. 6; Nm. 14:20).

It is therefore very fitting that at the conclusion of the Yom Kippur service we call out verses which demonstrate our belief in "Hashem Echad." Since Yom Kippur atones for the mistake of mixing up the reish and dalet which leads to idolatry, how apropos it is to call out the unity of God at the end of the Yom Kippur service (Shvilei Pinchas).

This also clarifies the purpose of the two goats brought on Yom Kippur. The two goats represent the two letters dalet and reish (Shvilei Pinchas).

At first glance, these two letters look alike. However, after analyzing them more closely, they have a slightly different shape. The dalet represents "Hashem Echad." However, the reish represents "El Acher." It's just that the reish tries to disguise himself as a dalet in order to trick us into reading the verse as "Hashem Acher" (there is another god).

This is why the two goats must be identical. The two goats represent the two letters dalet and reish. By the two goats looking alike, they are telling us that the two letters look alike. The two goats are basically telling us, "Look, we look alike, but in reality we are worlds apart. Therefore, beware of the two letters, dalet and reish, because they also look alike, but in reality they are worlds apart. As such, it is easy to mistaken one for the other. The goats are warning us to watch out for accidentally mixing up the two.

In the end, the two goats are not identical because one goes to God, whereas the other goes to Azazel. It's just that the goat that goes to Azazel tries to disguise himself as the goat that goes to Hashem in order to trick us into thinking that serving another god is also acceptable (Shvilei Pinchas).

It follows that the goat to Hashem represents the dalet of "Hashem Echad," whereas the goat to Azazel represents the reish of "El acher."

Therefore, if we ever did a mitzvah for ulterior motives, such as for honor or for wealth, we have sinned by exchanging "Hashem Echad" (the one God) for "Hashem acher" (another god). The goat brought as a sin offering to God (representing the dalet) atones for that type of mistake and puts the dalet back in its place.

If we ever committed a sin claiming it was a mitzvah, we exchanged "El Acher" (another god) for "El Echad" insisting that sinning is the way to serve Hashem when in fact it is serving foreign gods. The goat sent to Azazel (representing the reish) atones for that type of mistake and puts the reish back in its place. By trashing the goat to Azazel, we are calling a spade a spade, identifying a sin as a sin and not camouflaging it as a mitzvah.

Even today, after the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, and with the absence of the service of the goats, their message to us is still relevant. We must always make choices as to which road to walk upon. We must still pay attention to the difference between a reish and a dalet. We must constantly choose to do mitzvos for the right reason and not for ulterior motives, thus serving Hashem Echad. We must relentlessly choose to steer away from justifying sins by dressing them up as mitzvos, thus fulfilling the verse that says, "Do not bow down to El acher" (Shvilei Pinchas).

Since the goat's message is still relevant to us today, one practical application could be as follows. When reciting the Shema Yisrael each day, we are supposed to drag out the dalet of Echad (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 61:6). During that time, let us pray in our hearts that Hashem illuminate us to discern the difference between what is really for Hashem Echad and what is actually for El acher. In this way, we will be able to make the right choices.

So, may we all be blessed with the ability to differentiate between right and wrong, thus fixing the sin of the Golden Calf in order that God "Dar" (dwell; spelled dalet reish) with us once again in a "big" way in the Beis Hamikdash, when the service of Yom Kippur will be reinstituted and the whole world will realize that Hashem is Echad.