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Yom Kippur (Leviticus 16:1-16:34)

“It is a Sabbath of complete rest for you, and you shall afflict yourselves;

an eternal decree.” (Leviticus 16:31)

The Torah reading for Yom Kippur describes the ritual for purification of the mishkan (tabernacle).  The Kohen Gadol, the High Priest, takes two identical goats, and casts lots to determine their fates.  One goat is sacrificed to God and the other, carrying the sins of the people, is sent out into the wilderness to die. (Lev. 16:8-10).  Ibn Ezra (a 12th century Spanish commentator) claims identical goats are chosen as a reminder that the impulse to sin and the impulse to do good live side by side.


The verses describe an ancient ritual while also making an oblique but important statement about sin.  The Torah never identifies what the markers are explicitly, but states clearly they are placed on the goats.  And one goat’s role is to carry this marker to atone for the sins of the people.  Sin, then, is a burden that is carried and not an inherent (or “original”) attribute.


The destruction of the Temple forces the rabbis of the time to shift Yom Kippur’s focus from national to individual purification.  This is accomplished by acknowledging the burden we’ve been carrying (our imperfections, described in religious language as sins) and our plan to drop them off and be rid of them (described in religious language as atonement or repentance).  In simple terms, Yom Kippur asks us to examine and improve our behavior.  On a deeper level, Yom Kippur asks us whether we choose to be slaves to our behavior, or whether we choose to be masters of our behavior.  Ultimately, it’s up to us.


Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom/G’mar Chatimah Tova


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