Torah Reading – Yom Kippur Morning
(Leviticus 16:8) ונתן אהרן על שני השעירים גורלות גורל אחד לה' וגורל אחד לעזאזל
And Aaron shall place lots upon the two goats: One lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel.
Sivan Rahav-Meir, a religious Israeli news broadcaster summarizes the commentary of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, a leading 19th century German rabbi who founded the “School of Modern Orthodox Judaism”, on this sentence from the Yom Kippur morning Torah reading. She writes that the source of the word scapegoat is found in this Torah reading which describes the ritual of the Kohen on Yom Kippur. The Kohen would place lots on two goats. One goat would be sacrificed to God in the Temple and the other would be sent to its death by being thrown over the rocks in the wilderness (i.e. Azazel).
Rabbi Hirsch explains that this is not just some ancient irrelevant rite. Rather, it is a personal choice that everyone may make at any given moment in time:
In the world of powers without freedom, we are the sole beings that possess freedom. This freedom implies that each person has the ability to set him/herself against the Divine will. A person can be “for God” or “for Azazal”. He/She has to make that choice and decide in which direction to turn – to the Temple or to the wilderness. Will that choice be to be respected or disregarded, great or small, rich or poor? At any given moment, every person may choose and the decision to choose “for God” only has meaning and value because at that moment the possibility of choosing “for Azazel” is available. And the decision “for Azazel” is only a disgrace because at the same moment he/she could have chosen to remain faithful to God.
Rabbi Hirsch concludes by saying, that man’s entire dignity and worth lies in his/her ability to sin. We all have the opportunity to obey or disobey the will of God. Only we have the ethical advantage of choice!