Pure Atonement by Rabbi Avi Pollak


The opening chapter of Parshat Acharei-Mot tells the order of events that occurred each Yom Kippur in the Beit Hamikdash.  During that day’s schedule, the Kohen Gadol was ordered to enter the Kodesh HaKodashim, the Holy of Holies, offer the Kitoret and then sprinkle the blood of his personal Korban as well as the blood of the nation’s Chatat offering on and in front of the Aron.

It is well known that the Kohen actually prepared two goats to be sacrificed on behalf of the Jewish people on Yom Kippur.  One was offered as a Chatat and its blood was sprinkled in the Kodesh HaKodashim, and the other goat was sent out into the desert as the Sair Hamishtaleach and was thrown off the cliff, La’azazel.  Both goat offerings were crucial in attaining Kaparah for the Jewish people each Yom Kippur.

But upon reading the Torah’s explanation of each goat offering, one can notice a peculiar change in terminology.  For the goat offered in the Mikdash, the Torah states (16:16) “Vichaper Al Hakodesh Mitumot Bnei Yisrael Umipisheihem Lechol Chatotam…” “He shall provide atonement upon the sanctuary for the impurities of Bnei Yisrael and for their rebellious sins.”  Yet, for the other goat sent to the desert, the Torah states, (16: 21-22) “Vihitvadah Alav Et Kol Avonot Bnei Yisrael Viet Kol Pisheihem Lechol Chatotam…Vinasa Hasair Alav Et Kol Avonotam El Eretz Gezeirah…” “and confess upon [the goat] all the iniquities of Bnei Yisrael and all their rebellious sins…and the goat will bare upon itself all their iniquities to a desolate land…”  The first goat attains Kaparah for Bnei Yisrael’s “Tumot” and “Pisheihem” or, “impurities and rebelliousness” while the second attains Kaparah for their iniquities.  These Pesukim raise two questions: first, why is atonement needed for “Tumot”; what is sinful about becoming Tamei?  Second, do the two goats actually atone for two different things?

Rashi (6:16) helps answer our first question.  He claims that the impurities refer to the Jews’ transgression of entering the Mikdash while impure, a serious Averiah which clearly requires atonement.  This answer fits very nicely from a thematic perspective.  Parshiot Tazria and Metzora had elaborated on many types of Tumah, such as eating or touching dead animals, childbirth, Tzaraat, and emissions from the body.  Thus it would make sense that Immediately afterwards, the Torah then discusses how Bnei Yisrael attain Kaparah if those people entered the Mikdash in their impure state.

I would like to suggest a more homiletic answer for our questions.  Every Aveirah that a person performs has at least two effects.  One is the disregard of God’s will and for that one receives a blemish on one’s spiritual record which Teshuvah and/or punishment can erase.  This is a clear legal matter, which follows strict rules and procedures.  Each Aveirah one performs also subtly affects a person’s character and spiritual nature.  Though all Jews have a certain holiness by dint of national identity, we can grow in holiness and purity by observing God’s Mitzvot and following in his ways, and we become less holy and spiritually impure by ignoring them.  Though we are not rewarded or punished for this spiritual movement, our ability to perceive God’s holiness and to grow in spirituality is directly affected by it for better or for worse.  This is what Chazal mean when they say, “Schar Mitzvah, Mitzvah; Schar Aveirah, Aveirah,” “the reward for a Mitzvah is another Mitzvah and the reward for a sin is another sin.” 

The two goats on Yom Kippur atone for these two elements in our Aveirot.  The Sair Hamishtaleach atones for our “Aveirot;” the legal transgressions which blemish our record.  And the first goat remedies the “Tumot;” dullness of our spirit and impurity of character, which resulted from those Aveirot.  Together, the Jewish people become free of sin and pure of character allowing them to achieve true closeness to Hashem. 

Ahavat Yisrael by Etan Bluman

Creator to Creator by Shuky Gross