Sa'ir La'Azazel: Chesed as an Antidote to Sinat Chinam

Parshat Acharei Mot discusses the Yom Kippur service performed by the Kohen Gadol.  One of the more enigmatic rituals was the “sa’ir la’Azazel” – the so-called “scapegoat” sent into the desert by the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur.

In fact, there were two male goats featured in the Yom Kippur service – ideally, they were similar in appearance, height and value, and purchased together in a single transaction (Mishnah Yoma 6:1). The first goat is sacrificed as a “chatas” – a national sin-offering. The Kohen Gadol then performs a “vidui” (confession) of all of the sins of the Jewish people on the second goat, which is then escorted out to the desert by a designated individual (the “ish iti”) who pushes it off a cliff to its death.

The entire ritual defies easy explanation, and many commentators explore its meaning and significance.

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