Can I Use a Scapegoat on Yom Kippur?
. . . or is there a catch?
“I heard that in the original Yom Kippur services, the Jews used to send a scapegoat away with all their sins, and then they could start all over again. I’m looking for a scapegoat, but not sure exactly what to do with it when the day comes.”
You got some of it right, but I need to set you straight on a few details. For one thing, there were two goats. One was an offering on the altar. The other was sent away.
You’ve got a goat inside. It has two sides.
For another, the goat helps only when the entire community is involved, fasting, expressing remorse, and otherwise dealing with their past. Even then, the requirements stipulate a Temple built according to exact specifications on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and a high priest to officiate. If you can put all that together by the holy day, we’ll all be grateful. And impressed.
But wait, there’s still hope. Even if you can’t do this with a regular, woolly goat nowadays, you can still do it with your inner goat. Here’s how:
You’ve got a goat inside. It has two sides. On the one hand, you can’t live without it, and it’s not at all bad. Maybe it’s like one of those nice goats that provides milk, wool and playfulness. On the other hand, it can get into some darned awful habits that can prove pretty embarrassing in your relationship with others. Even more embarrassing when it comes to your Creator.
So, you need to split that goat into two goats. And then send one of them away.
There’s a caveat here, something you really have to know: You can’t send a goat away unless you first take ownership of it. You gotta know, “This is my goat. It’s part of me. What it did, I did. I take full responsibility.”
Once you’ve done that, you can wave goodbye, close the door, and never let it back in again. Then get to work on raising up the other goat into a truly divine offering.
That sounds pretty simple, but I have to bring it up because most people seem to find it real hard. We tend to think the scapegoat is our mother, father, fourth-grade school teacher, wife, husband, job, employer, rush-hour traffic, pharmaceuticals, condition, or some crazy rabbi who gives nutty advice.
You can’t send the goat away as long as you deny that it’s your goat.
That doesn’t work. You can’t send the goat away as long as you continue denying that it’s your goat. Only once you say, “Yes, that’s me,” then you can say, “No, that wasn’t me. Not the real me. That was beneath me.
“And I’m never going to see that goat again.”
BY TZVI FREEMAN a senior editor at Chabad.org, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files.
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