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The Tale of Two Goats

19/04/13 10:41:14


R Pesach Siegel

Parshas Acharei Mos 5773

Nadav and Avihu, two sons of Aharon HaKohen died. They died on Rosh Chodesh Nisan, the day of the inauguration of the Miskan. Aharon HaKohen offered the korbanos of chata’as, olah, and sh’lamim. A fire descended from heaven and consumed the sacrifices.

Nadav and Avihu filled fire pans with ketores (incense) and rather than taking from the fire that descended from heaven, they took fire of their own. This was a grave sin. A fire came out of the Kodesh HaKodashim[1] and consumed their innards.[2]

Hashem instructed Moshe Rabeinu to tell Aharon if he wishes to avoid an untimely death, he should take great care when he enters the Holy of Holies. He should do so in a strictly prescribed manner. He should do so only on Yom Kippur.[3]

What follows is the Yom Kippur service. The Torah tells us of the shnay se’irim – the two sacrificial goats. One is to be offered upon the mizbe’ach. The other is sent to a desolate land and thrown off a cliff to its death. Prior to sending it off, the Kohen Gadol lays his hands upon the head of the goat and pronounces the viduy – verbal declaration of the sins of the Bnei Yisroel.[4]

The two goats were identical. They were identical in height, appearance, and price.[5] They had to be purchased at the same time. They were chosen for their respective roles by lottery.


In what way does the Yom Kippur service ensure a safe outcome for the Kohen Gadol upon entering the Kodesh HaKodashim?

Why is it necessary for the two goats to be identical?

How does pronouncing viduy on the head of the goat procure atonement for the sins of the Bnei Yisroel? The goat did not commit the sins.

If the goat is some sort of korban, why is it sent away rather than brought upon the mizbe’ach?


The gemara in Meseches Brachos relates the prayer of Rav Alexandri. Master of the universe, it is revealed and known before you that our will is to perform your will. Who is stopping us? The yeast in the dough and the enslavement by the kingdoms of the nations.[6]

The inner will of a “Yid” and the will of G-d are one and the same. There are two entities that blind and confuse us from seeing our true will.

The “yeast in the dough” is an internal inclination. It is a foreign invader that was brought upon mankind as a consequence of the sin of Adam HaRishon. When Adam ingested the forbidden fruit, he internalized evil.

 The “enslavement by the kingdoms” is an external yetzer hara. We are enslaved by those whose will is not the will of the Creator. The culture of the nations is a pervasive influence that clouds our judgment.

Were it not for these two inclinations, there would be a clear distinction between good and evil.  They blind and confuse and an evil choice thus appears identical to a good one.

The kingdom of the nations is headed by those who follow the path of Eisav.[7] Eisav was identical to Yaakov Avenu. Until the twins, Yaakov and Eisav, were 13 years old, one was unable to tell them apart.[8] Eisav even managed to make his path appear virtuous in the eyes of his father, Yitzchak Avenu.[9] This is the power of Eisav, to blur the distinction between good and evil.


The two sacrificial goats represent Yaakov Avenu and Eisav HaRasha.[10] They must be identical because Yaakov and Eisav are identical twins. They represent the source of sin. The ability of Eisav to make himself appear as if his pathway and his choices are viable ones cause us to view him as equally legitimate compared to Yaakov.

We are to blame for our choices, even choices that were made due to the influence of others. But if we wish to be rid of our improper choices we must first understand from where they originated. Once comprehension dawns upon us, that our sins are not a product of our own will, they emanate from a foreign will imposed upon us, from an imposter disguised in the guise of ourselves, it is then possible to cleanse ourselves and come into contact with our true selves.

One goat is called the se’ir laHashem – the goat of G-d. Its lot is to enter the holiness of the Mishkan and be offered on the mizbe’ach. This goat represents the true will of a yid. Every particle, every iota is to exist for the glory of Hashem.

Through the avoda performed on the other goat, we come to understand the true source of our sins. It is the goat of Eisav. It is the malchus of Eisav.

This is why the Kohen Gadol pronounces viduy on the head of the goat. In order for us to achieve atonement, we must recognize that the source of our sins is the goat of Eisav, and then disassociate ourselves from this influence. We do this by sending it off to its death.

Nadav and Avihu saw the korban of Aharon HaKohen consumed by a fire that descended from heaven. A fire of their own would be equally legitimate, even more legitimate than a heavenly one. In their eyes they saw no difference. They were blinded. Their judgment was clouded. They then made a choice between two fires. They substituted a foreign will, masquerading as their own, in place of their true one.

The avoda of Yom Kippur is the safeguard that Aharon would not fall prey to the same error. The foreign will is to be separated from the person, sent into the wilderness, and thrown off a cliff.

The gemara in Meseches Baba Basra (46b) discusses the different roles in the process of a loan. The participants are a malveh – lender, loveh – borrower, arev – guarantor, and a kablan – a guarantor who replaces the borrower. The first letter of the word arev is ayin, the first letter of the word malveh is hay, the first letter of the word loveh is lamed, and the first letter of the word kablan is kuf. Together they spell the word Amalek. The gemara points this out as a form of memory aid.

This memory aid is not just a coincidence. There is a connection between the topic of loans and the nation of Amalek. A guarantor is liable for repayment of the loan. He is liable even though he was not the one to take out the loan. Why is this? This is due to the lender’s claim that he only lent the money due to the guarantor’s assurance that he relies upon the integrity of the loveh. He is even willing to compensate the malveh in case the loveh defaults on the loan. Thus, the guarantor was the cause for the actual loan and he is obligated to repay it.

Amalek is the most potent form of Eisav. It is through their influence that the Bnei Yisroel become obligated. Although the Bnei Yisroel were the ones to perform the acts that caused them to be chayav (obligated), the nation of Amalek is likened to a guarantor. They carry responsibility for the sins caused due to their influence.[11]

They too, must pay.

[1] See gematria from Baal HaTurim, Parshas Shmini, perek 10, posuk 1

[2] Parshas Shmini, perek 10, posuk 2

[3] Rashi, Parshas Acharei Mos, perek 16, posuk 1 - 3

[4] Parshas Acharei Mos, perek 16, posuk 21 - 22

[5] Meseches Chullin, daf 11a

[6] Meseches Brachos, daf 17a

[7] Breishis Rabbah, parshah  42, os 2

[8] Rashi, Parshas Toldos, perek 25, posuk27

[9] Rashi, Parshas Toldos, perek 25, posuk28

[10] Sefer HaZohar, Parshas Tzav, daf 27b, Magid Meisharim, Parshas Acharei Mos

[11][11] Rav Moshe Shapiro


Sat, September 19 2020 1 Tishrei 5781