Jake Dave - Dvar Torah
Shabbat shalom thank you for attending my bar mitzvah Shabbat morning service.
My parsha is Acharei Mot. After studying this parasha I have selected four topics that appear in this week's torah portion, namely sacrifice, atonement, growth and the notion of a scapegoat.
Sacrifice and scapegoat - was the ritual of the two goats, one offered as a sacrifice, the other sent away into the desert “to Azazel.” They were to all intents and purposes indistinguishable from one another: they were chosen to be as similar as possible in size and appearance. They were brought before the High Priest and lots were drawn, one bearing the words “To the L-rd,” the other, “To Azazel.” The one on which the “To the L-rd” fell was offered as a sacrifice. Over the other the High Priest confessed the sins of the nation and it was then taken away into the desert hills outside Jerusalem where it plunged to its death. Tradition tells us that a red thread would be attached to its horns, half of which was removed before the animal was sent away. If the rite had been effective, the red thread would turn to white.
According to the Torah the goat was sent “to a desolate area. According to the sages it was taken to a steep ravine where it fell to its death. That, according to the first explanation, is the meaning of Azazel.
The second is that Azazel was the name of a spirit or demon, one of the fallen angels, similar to the goat-spirit called Pan in Greek mythology, Faunus in Latin.
Azazel, in this reading, is the name of a demon or hostile force, sometimes called Satan or Samael. The Israelites were categorically forbidden to worship such a force. Indeed the belief that there are powers at work in the universe distinct from, or even hostile to, God, is incompatible with Judaic monotheism. Nonetheless, some sages did believe that there were negative forces that were part of the heavenly retinue, like Satan, who brought accusations against humans or tempted them into sin. The goat sent into the wilderness to Azazel was a way of conciliating or propitiating such forces so that the prayers of Israel could rise to heaven without, as it were, any dissenting voices.
The third interpretation and the simplest is that Azazel is a compound noun meaning “the goat that was sent away.” This led to the addition of a new word to the English language. In 1530 William Tyndale produced the first English translation of the Hebrew Bible, an act then illegal and for which he paid with his life. Seeking to translate Azazel into English, he called it “the escapegoat,”. the goat that was sent away and released. In the course of time the first letter was dropped, and the word “scapegoat” was born.
Atonement - you can get all year round; it is primarily about atonement. Big difference. Forgiveness means that after I make my apology, I'm off the hook. Atonement means that I am engaged in hard work to restore the relationship to its original state.
The word for atonement in Hebrew is kaparah, which also means "wiping up." If I spill my grape juice on your carpet, I can say sorry and be forgiven. But the stain is still there. Atonement only comes when I get the carpet cleaners to come clean your carpet.
And this is exactly what we do in the Ninth Step. Amends are not apologies. Making amends means trying to remove the stain, making things right again, and eventually even restoring the relationship to how it originally was. If an apology will make the person feel better, then we may include an apology in the amends. But the main thing is that we make it up to the person in a way that is significant to them.
Our amends to G‑d are not an apology, but rather a sincere attempt to restore the relationship on His terms — the way He likes it. Of course, if you just come to the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, then that's not really an amendment. The making of amends is a long-term project where we show the one we have harmed that we have honestly changed and changed permanently. When we behave differently all year round as a result of our Yom Kippur amends, then we are proving that we really atoned.
Growth is only possible if we subject ourselves to vulnerability. If we refuse to leave our comfort zone, we will never have new experiences or discover new abilities.
Think of a crab. It can’t grow a new shell if it refuses to leave its comfort zone, we will never have new experiences. It remains tucked into the old one, but as the crab grows, it requires a larger casing. So, it chucks its old one, burrows itself into soft sand to escape potential danger, and grows a new one.
While between shells, the crab experiences profound vulnerability, yet it doesn’t shy away from what must be done in order to grow. We too must take social and spiritual risks in order to grow. To climb, we must risk the possibility of falling, but we put ourselves in G‑d’s hands and move forward.
These things that i have spoken about convey a theme of the ‘living torah’ even though the torah was given to the jewish people over 5000 years ago its teachings could still be used today to guide us through everyday life events. Sacrifice, scapegoat, forgiveness and growth are essential elements of everyday life and teach us how to treat ourselves and others.