Ok. This is roughly 16-20 of Leviticus and I was almost afraid to even take it on. I am certain, and this is confirmed by other writers of commentary I read on this portion, that this is generally a favorite of Rabbis because it contains (drumroll please)…. the RULES. One commentary I particularly like talked about how disconnected this seems as opposed to other books, that other books tell a story, but Leviticus is just a huge mass of seemingly unconnected and often irrelevant (to the modern world) rules. So not really wanting to take on the commandments, I searched the portion and the midrash for ideas that appealed to me, as I always do. Two ideas piqued my interest. The first is the goat that is not killed at the altar or the tent as a sin-offering but is sent away (to Azazel the “hard” mountain) bearing away all the sins of the Israelites. Now I wouldn’t have thought of this myself because I am no genius, but it is suggested that this is where the concept of a “scapegoat” was born. How interesting. But unlike the modern idea of a scapegoat where you just blame someone else for whatever you don’t want to take responsibility for, here there is a conscious transfer of sin from Aaron to the goat and a conscious carrying away of the sins of the people, an act of conscious confession if you will. Somehow this ancient ritual morphed into the blame game! The other idea that caught my interest was this… the portion says that when Aaron makes his atonement (inside the temple) there shall be no man present but him. Aaron of course is the great priest and he is making atonement for his and everyone’s sins. Without going into a lengthy discussion of all the rules and rituals of atonement, inside-outside, linen-gold, etc., suffice it to say that at this most grave of moments, he is to be alone. Since all of this discussion is about Yom Kippur, and the rituals attendant to it, this is particularly interesting since we now make our confession, our atonement, as a whole people, as a congregation together. Nevertheless, what does it mean that he is to be alone? Why is he to be alone? One commentator (I never remember who said what) said that the idea is that you should act as if the world doesn’t exist when you make atonement; that what others think of you shouldn’t matter. Again, this is a conscious decision about confession and repentance; it should be for you alone. Similarly when you stand up for your convictions, the lesson learned in solitary atonement should support you in this attitude of not caring what others think. In both instances you do what is right because it is right, you make a moral decision because it is moral and you make a conscious decision not only to atone, but to trust G-d alone that it is the right thing. This is yet another moment of covenant, I think, between each of us and G-d; that G-d will support us in our repentance and in our convictions, our right-thinking and acting. The act of consciously sending away your sin is very like this too, it is the same type of decision; to act in a new and moral way, with a clean slate. There is so much in this portion that a person could write forever but this is enough for me. Now I know why we wear white linen on Yom Kippur (or we did). More important, I believe the conscious decision of atonement and that of conviction is one we can make every day, a decision to do better, to speak more loudly for justice and more softly in anger, to make right ourselves, our homes and our world. Shabbat Shalom.
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