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Parshiyyot Acharei Mot-Kedoshim 5778 — 04/28/2018

Parshiyyot Acharei Mot-Kedoshim 5778 — 04/28/2018

Acharei Mot: Vayikra 16:1-18:30
Kedoshim: Vayikra 19:1-20:27

Parashat Acharei Mot contains the Yom Kippur ritual, including the puzzling ritual of the two goats: “one for Gd and one for Azazel” (16:6-10). This procedure is so out of character for Torah that all commentators feel impelled to explain it, and Abarbanel is no exception. He asks four questions (no, not those four questions…):

  1. What is Azazel?
  2. Why the lottery to determine which goat went where?
  3. Why did the Kohen Gadol confess the sins of the people on the goat for Azazel? The one for Gd was specifically a sin offering – it would have made more sense to confess on that one!
  4. Are sins physical objects that the goat to Azazel could bear them away?

Abarbanel’s answer is to see in the two goats a reflection of the characteristics and relationship of Ya’akov and Esav. First of all, the goats had to be identical in appearance – Ya’akov and Esav were twins, although from the Torah’s description they were not identical twins – Esav came out all ruddy and hairy, while Ya’akov was not, and their personalities diverged greatly. (In a 1997 article in the South African Medical Journal, Prof. Azila Talit Reisenberger argues that it is possible that Ya’akov and Esav were in fact identical twins, and that both the physical and personality differences might be accounted for by “twin-twin transfusion syndrome.”) Ya’akov was dedicated to Gd’s service, while Esav was steeped in physicality, living for the moment, satisfying whatever desire popped up at the moment. So one goat is dedicated to Gd, while the other is sent out to Azazel, the opposite direction, so to speak, from its partner. The one sent the “other way” bears the sins of the people, simply by affinity, because sins come from distancing ourselves from Gd, and further distance us from Gd. Finally, the lottery. Lotteries in Torah are not “games of chance.” They are a way for Gd to communicate with us through the medium of a “chance” event. Perhaps part of the lesson here is that we should be searching all the supposedly “chance” events that affect us for a message about ourselves.

Abarbanel then takes the analysis to a deeper level. He now sees Ya’akov and Esav as representing two internal states of the Jewish people.

The two goats represent the entire nation, albeit from two opposite perspectives. When the nation is serving Gd properly, they are symbolized by the goat that was sacrificed as a sin offering. The goat’s innards were consumed on the Altar, representing the inner thoughts of the nation, which must be dedicated completely to Gd. Its blood was sprinkled in the Holy of Holies, representing the highest form of devotion and connection to Gd. …

When the nation does not follow Gd’s path, then their lot and portion is to “go to Azazel” – that is, to be distanced from Gd’s holiness. They will be punished for their insolence [RAR: Az in Hebrew] by being sent into exile. …

In this approach Ya’akov and Esav are seen as our two natures – one nature, governed by our soul, to go in the inward, spiritual direction, and the other, governed by our body, to go in the outer direction, towards the material creation. These two natures exist within each one of us, and different nations are held to be dominated by one or the other. For example, the Roman Empire, which in Rabbinical thought is descended from Esav, was famous for its marvelous feats of engineering, as well as its greed and acquisitiveness. Israel, on the other hand, was more known for its Rabbis and teachers and spiritual leaders. This is not to say, of course, that there was no spirituality in Rome and no greed in Israel – rather we are talking about fundamental tendencies.

We can gain an understanding of the relationship between the two tendencies from our tradition’s teachings regarding their manifestation within us. The two tendencies in the individual are generally called the “good inclination” / yetzer haTov and the “evil inclination” / yetzer haRa. The yetzer haTov is the inclination that impels us inward, towards development of our spiritual nature, our soul, which the yetzer haRa impels us outward, into the world of the senses, the material world of the body.

Now our souls were put in our bodies for a purpose – so that there should be an interface between the spiritual world and the physical world. That is why we have these two inclinations, inward/spiritual/soul oriented and outward/physical/body oriented. The senses bring impressions from the outer world into the mind, the intellect processes those impressions and decides what to do next, and the body turns those decisions into actions. What this means is that the body and senses are doing exactly what they were designed to do! Why are they associated with the yetzer haRa?

If we look at the nature of the mind, we see that it is constantly wandering. This wandering is not random however. The mind is constantly seeking greater happiness, greater expansion, more knowledge. The mind follows the senses from object to object, constantly seeking more. The trouble is, the outside, material world is composed of finite objects, and nothing finite can possibly satisfy the mind’s longing to expand. So we go further and further away from our spiritual self, not realizing that our soul, which is unbounded and immortal, is just the infinite field of happiness that can finally satisfy the mind. If we only would turn our attention in the inward direction, our minds would naturally and effortlessly move away from the physical and contact the unbounded, inner soul. Upon returning to outer activity, we would bring along some of the influence of this inner value. With repetition, the mind will eventually retain the experience of inner infinity while dealing with the outside world of boundaries. We can serve Gd with both the yetzer haRa and the yetzer haTov. We can infuse the crude material world with holiness.

This section added at press time!

I was listening to a lecture on this week’s portion by R. Yissochar Frand. He pointed out that both the goats are called sin-offering, even though in fact only one goat will be a sin-offering and the other will be sent to Azazel. Why are they both given the same name? The answer he gave is that the goat for Azazel is necessary for the other goat to become an actual sin-offering. That which plays a supporting role in any mitzvah-activity, that facilitates the mitzvah-activity, is given credit for having performed the mitzvah itself. Thus, for example, there is the famous partnership between the tribes of Yissachar and Zevulun — Zevulun were merchants, and they supported the Torah study of their brethren of the tribe of Yissachar, and, according to Rabbinic tradition, they are credited with the mitzvah of Torah study on the basis of Yissachar’s study. On other occasions, by the way, R. Frand has pointed out that when a traditional Jewish wife supports her husband’s Torah study, her reward is actually greater than his.

What struck me, being a physicist, is that the tale of two goats that we have on Yom Kippur is remarkably similar to the phenomenon known as “quantum entanglement.” Quantum entanglement is a situation where a system that starts out in a particular state remains in that state, even when the components of the system have traveled far away from one another. Then, if you go ahead and measure one part of the system, the other part instantaneously assumes the correct corresponding value, even though there is too much distance and too little time for the two parts of the system to communicate with one another. The classic example of this phenomenon is a pair of electrons with opposite spin. Electrons can be pictures as little spinning balls of electrical charge, and since they are charged they act like little magnets. We can measure the magnetism, and if we do we get one of two values, called “spin-up” and “spin-down.” Now prepare a system of two electrons with opposite spin. In general, the spin of electron A will be a combination of spin-up and spin-down, and the spin of electron B will be too. The fact that each electron is a combination of spin-up and spin-down means that if we measure the spin of either of the electrons, we will get spin-up with probability P(up), and spin-down with probability P(down). But every time we measure electron A with spin-up, electron B will be measured with spin-down, and vice versa. Now send the electrons speeding away from one another, and when they are many km apart, measure their spins. They will always be opposite: if A is up, B will always be down and vice versa. Somehow the parts of the system are still connected, and as if communicating with one another on some subtle level to maintain the connection with which they started.

Now back to our goats. The two goats must be as identical as possible. Before the Kohen Gadol casts the lots, either goat could be the sin-offering and the other to Azazel, and vice versa. The goats are as if entangled with one another into a single system. Once the lots are cast, however, their fates become fixed. A strip of scarlet wool was tied to the horns of the goat, and another was tied to the entrance of the Temple. When the goat to Azazel was thrown off the cliff, the scarlet wool in the Temple turned white to indicate that the sins that had been carried away were indeed forgiven. A miracle, or quantum entanglement?

Parshiyyot Acharei Mot-Kedoshim

Commentary by Steve Sufian

In Parashat Acharei Mot, Gd commands that only the High Priest may enter the Holy of Holies and he may only do that once a year, on Yom Kippur.

This raises the question: May only the High Priest experience the Full Presence of Gd? And may he only experience that once a year?

Compare this commandment with the commandment in the accompanying parshah, Kedoshim, in which Gd says, “Be thou Holy, for I Am Holy”.

This commandment says that we, all of us, must always be Holy, not just the High Priest and not just once a year.

Looking at the commandment in Acharei Mot from this point of view, it seems to me that, although the Tabernacle and all its details, including the Holy of Holies and the actions of the priests and the High Priest, were specifically designed by Gd to assist us in being aware of His Presence, it is possible for us to be fully aware of His Presence wherever we are and whoever we are.

The 10 Commandments/Statements/Utterances/Words give us very clear guidance for our behavior so that we can act and be Holy. Particularly, the commandment/ statement/utterance/word, “Thou shalt love the Lord, thy Gd, with all the heart, all thy soul, and all thy might” and, very close to it, the commandment which appears in Parshah Kedoshim, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”.

To me as to many in our congregation – the guidance to love Gd has resulted in my doing my best to live my life routinely and moment-to-moment so that we can be increasingly aware that Gd-Totality as all there is and therefore our love is naturally directed to Him/Her wherever our attention may be: the love is not a mood, it is a natural experience of Gd as Love within Whom our individuality is a flow of Gd’s Love, flowing within Gd, naturally experiencing more and more of the Wholeness.
The guidance to love our neighbor as our self, has naturally resulted in our doing our best to know our self more and more fully and thus to increase in our love for every aspect of existence, every individual expression of Gd, flowing within Gd, including our neighbors.

Although it will be nice, great, wonderful! when the Temple is rebuilt and we have its assistance in being aware of Gd’s Presence, Kedoshim commands us all that we should be Holy, in and out of the temple, whatever our status in the community.
Through our desires to love Gd, love our neighbor, be Holy and through the actions we take to fulfill these desires we in our community are becoming increasingly aware of Gd’s Presence as Omnipresent, Omniscient, Omnipotent, Omni-Joyful, Omni-Loving and our behavior becomes increasingly naturally loving and Loving, Holy, Holy, Holy!

Thank You, Gd!

Baruch HaShem