The New Shul

Parshat Aharei-Mot

This week’s parashah, Aharei Mot, describes the Yom Kippur ritual as it was observed in the time when the Temple stood.   As part of the ritual, the High Priest would take two goats and choose between them by lot.  One goat would be offered directly to God, and the other would be sent into the wilderness, symbolically bearing away the sins of the people.   Before the lots were drawn, the High Priest presented both goats to God, side by side, as equals.

Though the fates of the two goats were very different, the Torah makes a point of emphasizing their equality. The talmudic rabbis highlighted that point by constructing a half-serious, imaginary dialogue. The imagined that, after the lots were drawn, the second goatcomplained to the High Priest:  “Why does the other goat get to go straight to God when I have to go in the other direction, out into the desert?  It’s not fair!”  In response, the High Priest explained to the second goat that its role would be for the sake of God as well, in that it would play a crucial part in the community’s atonement. Since the second goat was needed too, it was no less important than the first.

The point is that, when it comes to building spiritual community, no one is peripheral. Everyone’s contribution is vital. To be a true community is to be aware of our profound dependence on each other. It is to know that, when it comes to sacred service, all of us are equal.