This week we read the double parsha of Acharei Mos - Kedoshim. Acharei
Mos begins: "Va'yedabare Hashem el Moshe acharei mos shnei bnei Aharon
(Hashem spoke to Moshe after the death of two of Aharon's sons)
[16:1]". Aharon sons had brought an aish zarah - a strange,
uncommanded fire offering - and had therefore died. Aharon is warned
to only enter the Kodesh Kadashim (Holy of Holies) on Yom Kippur with
the proper offering.
Our parsha then delves into a detailed description of the avodah
(service) performed on Yom Kippur. "Umay'ais adas Bnei Yisroel yikach
shnei seiray ezim l'chatas (And from Bnei Yisroel you shall take two
male goats as a sin offering) [16:5]." The Mishna in Yoma states that
the two must be identical in color, height and value and that they
must be purchased simultaneously.
On Yom Kippur they are brought to the Kohen Gadol and, as these two
identical animals stand shoulder to shoulder, lots are drawn. At this
point their paths diverge drastically. One is designated to be
la'Hashem- to be brought as a korbon - and the other will be sent
la'azazel - off a cliff.
As the seir la'azazel (the goat to be thrown off the cliff) remains
standing alive, the seir la'Hashem is shechted (slaughtered) and his
blood is collected in a vessel. That vessel is brought to the Kodesh
Kadashim where the blood is sprinkled between the poles of the Aron
(Holy Ark), on the paroches (the separating curtain between the Kodesh
and the Kodesh Kadashim) and on the Mizbeach HaZahav (the Golden
Altar). The remainder of the seir is burnt outside of the camp.
Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch z"l expounds on this. Let's imagine the
thoughts of the seir la'azazel...
~ WHEW!!! I can't believe what I just saw... Talk about a close
call... That could have been my neck. My lucky day that I didn't
draw his lot! 50-50 chance... Poor guy... I had taken a bit of a
liking to him... ~
The Kohen Gadol then approaches the seir la'azazel, places his hands
on its head and confesses the sins of the nation. It is then led out
of the Beis HaMikdash toward the mountains outside of Yerushalayim...
~ Ahhhh... boy, am I glad to be out of that place... It gave me
the creeps. Now I can relax and take a deep breath. Nothing like
the country air. I sure am glad I was able to walk out on my own
two feet... Beautiful scenery - this is the life... ~
It is then brought to the edge of a high cliff...
~ What a panoramic view! Incredible, absolutely incredible! Talk
about a Kodak moment! ~
...turned around with its back to the cliff...
~ Oh, I get it, you want a shot with the mountains in the
background... Tell me when... Say cheese... ~
...and pushed off the mountain...
On Yom Kippur we must learn the lesson of these goats. We all start out
with certain similarities. We each then have decisions to make and
paths to choose. Often one path seems wrought with sacrifice and pain
- the other blissful and serene.
We're often plagued with questions. Why give up pleasures? Why
restrain ourselves? Why not get all that we can out of life? I
remember an old Schaeffer Beer poster which parodied a Nautilus
advertisement. It was a picture of an extremely overweight fellow
sitting on a Schaeffer Beer barrel with a full mug of beer in each
hand. The caption underneath read: No Pain, No Pain...
We each realize that it's the struggles and sacrifices in life which
reveal and build our strengths as individuals. The easy path is rarely
the fulfilling one. That which seems so tempting and easy is often
catastrophic. That won't lead to the inner sanctum of the Kodesh, to
serenity, fulfillment and holiness.
Yom Kippur is the day to see through this world of illusion, to
recognize the underlying truths and to choose our paths wisely and
insightfully. To learn the lesson of the seirim, the goats...
The second parsha that we read - Kedoshim - enjoins us to reach this
holiness. "Dabare el kol adas Bnei Yisroel v'amarta aleihem kedoshim
tih'yu (Speak to the whole congregation of the children of Yisroel and
say to them: you shall be holy) [19:2]."
Rashi explains this holiness to mean separation - separation from the
forbidden. Rav Isaac Sher offers another understanding: chashivus
(importance) - recognition of our chashivus. In truth, these two
understandings are intertwined. Our recognition of who we are gives us
the strength to withstand temptations, enabling us to separate from
What is this chashivus that we must feel? Hashem stressed to Moshe
that this message must be given to kol adas Bnei Yisroel - to the
entire congregation. Every single one of us is eternal. We were
created at the time of the creation and will exist eternally, basking
in the pleasure of closeness with that Creator. That to which we
attach so much importance - the time that our neshama (soul) spends
down here in this physical world - is really a short aberration from
our authentic, genuine state.
When a person recognizes that he is a son who stands before his
Father, a son who, to a certain degree, carries upon himself the
Holiness of the Father, he recognizes that he must act in a manner
befitting a prince. This must affect our actions when we are alone,
when we are with our families and when we are at school or work.
It is also each individuals responsibility to help bring the
collective group of Klal Yisroel up to this level. Parshas Kedoshim,
amongst its fifty one mitzvos, includes the mitzvah of tochacha
(giving caring, constructive rebuke) [19:17].
Shlomo HaMelech instructs us in Mishley: "Don't rebuke a letz (scoffer)
lest he will hate you, rebuke a chochom (wise person) and he will
love you [9:8]". The Shla"h learns from this a fundamental concept
in tochacha (rebuke) and in chinuch (education) in general. When
giving rebuke, don't just point out faults, thereby making the
person feel like a letz. Also emphasize the positive qualities, make
the person feel like a chochom, and he will accept your rebuke and
The Chofetz Chaim was once staying at an inn in Vilna when a very
animalistic man entered and pounded on the table demanding roast duck
and booze. When the food was brought he grabbed it and, without making
a bracha (blessing), began wolfing it down. The whole time, he was
directing lewd comments toward the waitress.
The Chofetz Chaim stood afar, shocked by the spectacle, and began to
plan a way to approach and censure this individual. The innkeeper
rushed to the Chofetz Chaim to try to prevent him from such an
attempt. He was simply afraid what the man might do to the Chofetz
Chaim should he approach him. "Rebbe, please leave him be - he never
learned any other way. At the age of seven he was drafted into the
Czar's army and was taken to Siberia for training. He trained there
for eleven years and then, at the age of eighteen, he served in the
Czar's for twenty five years. That was the chinuch that he received.
All of those years he never learned a word of Torah and never even saw
a Jewish face."
A smile spread over the holy face of the Chofetz Chaim as he heard the
words of the innkeeper. He approached the individual, greeting him
with a warm 'shalom aleichem' (greetings). "Is what I've heard about
you true?", asked the Chofetz Chaim with awe in his voice. "That you
were around non-Jews for so many years, that you weren't able to learn
even a word of the Torah, that they tried to pry you away from the
religion of your fathers, tried to force you to eat pig, and you
remained a Jew?!?! You wouldn't convert! Your place in the world to
come will be amongst the greatest tzadikim (righteous people)! You
passed an incredibly difficult test that lasted thirty years!"
Tears filled the weary eyes of the ex-soldier. Never before had such
words reached his ears. When he realized who it was that had spoken
them to him, he broke out into a wailing cry and began to kiss the
The Chofetz Chaim continued with his warm words. "A person such as
you, who has merited to be counted amongst those who were willing to
give up their lives for Hashem, if you'd decide to continue your life
in a mitzva-abiding manner, you'd be amongst the 'wealthiest' in the
This man remained in close contact with the Chofetz Chaim, his
newfound Rebbe, until he had become fully observant and a true tzaddik.