Eating Crow and Killing Goats: Aharei Mot 2022

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: Have you ever regretted throwing something away? Have you ever wondered if your life would have been different had you not done so?

In an effort to rid themselves of sin, the Israelite priests are commanded to throw away their sins by placing them on a literal scapegoat:

The Pitch: “The goat designated by lot for Azazel shall be left standing alive before the LORD, to make expiation with it and to send it off to the wilderness for Azazel.” – Leviticus 16:10

Swing #1: “Throughout history, Jews have been scapegoated for many events and movements … Meanwhile, Jews have of course committed their own acts of scapegoating. I have heard ultra-Orthodox Jews blame liberal Jews for the Holocaust, and I have heard liberal Jews blame religious Jews for all of Israel’s problems. I have also heard Jews express racist thoughts of the vilest kind. … If you want to hear harsh criticism of Jews, just open the Tanakh to a random place; there is a fairly decent chance you will find some.” – Rabbi Eli L. Garfinkel, The JPS Jewish Heritage Torah Commentary

Swing #2: “The Hebrew [word] Azazel is often left untranslated in English versions [of the Bible], since the meaning is debated. … As good as any other: azel means ‘go away, disappear,’ and an az is a ‘goat.’” – Douglas A. Knight & Amy-Jill Levine, The Meaning of the Bible: What the Jewish Scriptures and Christian Old Testament Can Teach Us

Swing #3: “This means to confess, for the main understanding of confession and atonement is throwing away and abandoning the sin. Similarly, every language of atonement (כפרה) is a connotation of removing, as in Isaiah 28:18: ‘And your treaty with death shall be removed’.” – HaKtav Vehakaballah

Late-Inning Questions: Do our commentators seem to think of scapegoating as a good thing or a bad thing? How do we think of it today? Is it ever beneficial to blame others for our misfortunes instead of taking the blame ourselves?

On-Deck at TBT: I’m excited that the Klein Scholar weekend will begin in two weeks, and for the first time in three years, it will be in-person. Join Frederick E. Greenspahn, PhD, for four talks on The Changing Nature of American Jewry throughout the weekend of May 13-15. More details are available on the TBT website.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of scapegoating, it is problematic when baseball players blame a loss on an umpire’s less-than-stellar performance. However, there are times when that anger can be justified — as Kyle Schwarber demonstrated to Angel Hernandez Sunday when the latter messed up yet another ball-and-strike call.

Shabbat Shalom!