Rabbi Barclay Torah Commentary in The Jewish Journal
And Aaron shall place lots upon the two he goats: one lot “For the Lord,” and the other lot, “For Azazel.”
The moment of death is as powerful as the moment of birth, and this verse reminds us of this power as it prepares us for Yom Kippur.
Although Maimonides states that a sin cannot actually be transferred to the Azazel scapegoat, this ritual awakens the deepest part of our souls and makes us hyper-aware of each moment of life through the awe of conscious death. This truth has been viscerally experienced by any person who has been to a kapparot ritual (sacrificing a chicken before Yom Kippur), which developed from the Azazel scapegoat after the destruction of the Temple. While Maimonides may be right that the sin is not actually transferred; the awareness of our personal actions, sins, responsibilities, and blessings is exponentially increased through being present at an animal sacrifice: at a conscious transition of life to death.
In our modern lives we are distanced from this powerful moment as our food just shows up on our table, the leather is already tanned and made into our belts and shoes. But being present at the moment of death is something that awakens the deepest part of our souls and inspires us to live consciously and with respect for every millisecond of life.
Although rejected by animal-rights activists, this ritual of Azazel and its descendant, the kapparot ceremony, have power and value both individually and for the world. Someone once said that “Sacrifice is where violence and the sacred intersect”. It is terrible and magnificent at the same time, but truly leads us to personal awareness and real acts of tshuvah.
Rabbi Michael Barclay
April 28th, 2022
27th of Nisan, 5782
12th Day of the Omer