The Azazel by Shlomo Tanenbaum


In this week’s Parsha, the Torah describes the Yom Kippur service and procedures that accompany this holy day.  One of the strangest rituals is the Azazel goat that is pushed off a cliff. What is the significance of this procedure?  Moreover, the Azazel facilitates forgiveness for almost all Aveirot in the Torah, aside from a select few which need more Teshuvah.  What is so powerful about the Azazel that gives it the ability to gain such widespread forgiveness?

The Midrash answers our questions by stating that the Azazel is representative of Eisav. One could interpret this Midrash as teaching that when we push the Azazel off the cliff, we are demonstrating that all our Aveirot stem from our association with Goyim.  All philosophies and ideologies that are contrary to Torah are a direct result of our physical and mental connection and involvement with Nochri ideas, newspapers, magazines, television, etc.  Without the influence of Eisav, we would have been almost perfect.  It is possible to reject the influence of Eisav, but once a person sins, it is only because of his influence with Nochrim and society.  Communities that do not have the influence of Eisav have much more dedication to Yiddishkeit and all the outlooks it represents. Shabbat observance is higher, enthusiasm and commitment to Talmud Torah is more extreme, and Mitzvot are performed with deeper understanding and devotion.  They understand that their true purpose in this world is not the purposes and ideas perpetrated by Eisav.  Therefore, it is of the utmost necessity to distance ourselves from the ideologies, ideas, and commitments presented by Eisav, and then our true selves will shine through.

The first Pasuk of Tehilim is somewhat strange.  The book of Tehilim is basically a book of praises of Hashem and expressions of longing to become closer to His Shechinah.  In that case, why does the Sefer start with an advice to keep away from jokers and Reshaim?  This Pasuk belongs in Sefer Mishlei, where we are given advice on how to live our lives.  Why is it found in Sefer Tehilim?  Rav Avigdor Miller answers that by keeping away from Reshaim, our own Avodah is enhanced.  The first step toward praising Hashem is to keep away from jokers, thereby making it easier to praise Hashem.  If we are around Reshaim and jokers, our own Avodah and praises to Hashem will be diminished and inferior.  Therefore, separating from the society around us is of the utmost importance to our own Avodah that Hashem desires from us.  Hopefully, many will embark on a career towards searching and working on our our Avodah to Hashem, and not toward the Hevel, nothingness and unhappiness, that Nochri society offers.

Editor’s response:  In the name of free speech we have printed the above essay, although it is not in harmony with the Hashkafa of our Yeshiva.  A brief response, however, is in order.  The communities that have greatly distanced themselves from Nochri influences are, quite ironically, extremely dependent on Nochri financial assistance.  This is quite a Chillul Hashem and, quite frankly, is very dangerous (see Esther 3:8) in the long term as such communities continue to grow with Hashem’s help.  An alternative approach to the above essay is that we must distinguish between the positive elements of the surrounding society and the negative elements, which may be symbolized by Eisav.  Our casting the Azazel off the mountain could symbolize our commitment to distance ourselves from the negative elements of Nochri society while simultaneously looking for the what we can gain from Nochri society.  This is the idea symbolized by Yitro and Chiram the King of Tyre (who contributed the cedar wood to build the Beit HaMikdash).  Only communities that achieve this balance will succeed both spiritually and materially.  The mission of Am Yisrael is to bring Brachah to the entire world, not to be unilaterally disengaged from it

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