Bar Mitzvah Speech
My parshah, Acharei Mot is the same portion which is read on Yom Kippur. It contains a description of the rituals which took place on that day in the Temple when it was standing.
The most important part of that ritual involves two goats. The two goats were brought before the Kohen Gadol, or High Priest and he would draw lots to decide what would be done with them. On one lot was written La’Adonai – “fpr the Lord,” and on the other was written La’azazel – for the wilderness. The goat that got the lot labeled La’Adonai – “for the Lord” – would be sacrificed to God in celebration of Yom Kippur. But the goat that got the lot that said La’azazel was treated differently. The Kohen Gadol would place his hands on that goat and confess all of his sins and the sins of the people of Israel. He would transfer all the sins to the goat and ask God for forgiveness. Then the goat was led out of the Temple and away to a rocky peak. It was pushed over the edge and fell to its death, and the sins of the people would be wiped out with the death of the goat. The goat would die in place of the people suffering any punishment for their sins.
The rabbis taught that there was a red thread that was hung in the Temple courtyard for this ritual. At the moment the goat died, the thread would miraculously turn white, showing God’s forgiveness of the people. After this ritual the Kohen Gadol would go into the Holy of Holies inside the Temple and ask God to forgive all the people.
We still seek forgiveness for our sins on Yom Kippur; but since the destruction of the Temple, we don’t do this ritual any more. We confess our sins with the al chet and ashamnu, we ask the people we hurt to forgive us, and we try to change our ways and be better. If we do all this then God forgives us. But there are still lessons we can learn from the ritual of the goats.
I think one lesson of the goats comes from the lots. These two goats don’t have any choice about what will happen...