Aaron shall take the two he-goats and let them stand before the Lord at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting; and he shall place lots upon the two goats, one marked for the Lord and the other marked for Azazel. Aaron shall bring forward the goat designated by lot for the Lord, which he is to offer as a sin offering; while the goat designated by lot for Azazel shall be left standing alive before the Lord, to make expiation with it and to send it off to the wilderness for Azazel.One goat is consecrated to G*d, while the other has the sins of the people "placed upon its head", and it is let go into the wilderness. In modern times, the fate of that goat is used to describe the "fall guy" -- the scapegoat for someone else's misdeeds. We think of the other goat as somehow "superior", since it was dedicated to G*d, while the scapegoat symbolizes sin.
Today, however, I was thinking about this story in the context of the observance of Yom Kippur. "Hayom" -- TODAY -- the divine Judgment will be decreed. "Who shall live and who shall die; who by water and who by fire..." Is this not what was done with the goats? One died, and the other lived.
But we -- all of us who are here TODAY -- are those who survived the Judgment from last year. We were not "offered up to the Lord". Instead, we are here, preparing to wander in the wilderness for another year. Not only that, but we are carrying with us the guilt for a multitude of sins, most of which are not even ours. The Scape Goat is each of us, trying to make our way back to safety, back to community, back to harmony with the divine.
This idea is reinforced with the Mincha reading for Yom Kippur, the story of Jonah and the whale. Like the Scape Goat, Jonah runs away, both from G*d's Judgment and from the task of pronouncing judgment on the people of Nineveh. He neither wishes to judge or be judged. And yet, in order to fulfill his own purpose in life, he must do both.
What does it mean, then, to escape? When should we escape and when should we return? Are we indeed, like the Scape Goat, destined to wander forever, or is true return -- Teshuvah -- possible in our lifetime? Every year, at Yom Kippur, we fervently pray that our slate is indeed wiped clean, and yet we continue to wander with those pesky sins upon our heads. We continue to judge and be judged. We continue to struggle between escape and return.
So... What will we do TODAY?