Rav Avigdor Miller on The Sa’ir La’azazel

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Q:

The Rambam says that the sa’ir hamishtaleiach, the goat that is pushed off a cliff on Yom Kippur, is mechaper even without teshuva. How does that work?

A:

Rabbi Pikus is asking, how is it that the procedure of the sa’ir hamishtaleiach being thrown down a mountain and killed, should be able to effect a kaparah without people repenting?

And the answer is that we have to understand that the sa’ir hamishtaleiach is actually teaching a lesson and the people understood the lesson. A lesson, even if it doesn’t change your actions but it changes your mind, and changing the mind already is a teshuvah

What is it that the sa’ir hamishtaleiach teaches? Everybody knows that the sa’ir is Eisav. Eisav is symbolized by the sa’ir; he was sa’ir, a hairy man, and the hairy he-goat, that is the symbol of Esav. And on Yom Kippur they take the he-goat and throw it off a mountain and it is shattered.

The possuk says וְנָשָׂא הַשָּׂעִיר אֶת כָּל עֲוֹנֹתָם אֶל אֶרֶץ גְּזֵרָה – the he-goat will carry away their sins to a desert land. So Chazal say like this, a symbolism, a lesson: וְנָשָׂא הַשָּׂעִיר זה עשו – “And the sa’ir will carry away” means that “Eisav will carry away,” אֶת כָּל עֲוֹנֹותם עוונות תם – all the avonosam, all of their sins. But instead of avonosam, their sins, we read avonos tam, the sins of the ish tam, that’s Yaakov. If Eisav is cast off a mountain and he is shattered, then Yaakov’s sins are forgiven and he becomes an איש תם, he becomes perfect again. 

What does that mean? It means that we have to learn from this procedure – and they learned in those days; they understood it – that our greatest problem in this world is the influence of Eisav. If we can divest ourselves, if we can rid ourselves of the influence of the nations of the world, that’s number one! That’s one of the most important methods of doing teshuvah

Of course there is still שאור שבעיסה. Besides for the subjugation to the gentile nations, the influence of Eisav, there’s also the ‘yeast in the dough’ which means the intrinsic yetzer hora in each one of us. But besides for that intrinsic yetzer hora there is another yetzer hora that is more encompassing, an overall yetzer hora of following the ways of the gentiles. 

The ways of Eisav! That’s our biggest problem. All the wicked Jews in America are only talmidim of Eisav. If you would study what they would do, you would see that they all come from the examples given by the general gentile community. The wickedness of immorality, the wickedness of atheism and evolution, all the rishus is not a Jewish product. Even the avodah zarahs that were worshiped by some Jews in ancient days were all imitations of the idols of the gentiles. And therefore, our first problem is to degentilize ourselves, to get rid of the influence of the outside world. 

Of course the Jews who follow Esav are all included in ‘the outside world.’ Irreligious Jews are also Eisav. The ‘outside world’ includes Zionists too because Zionist atheists are certainly no better than the people in New York Times or the ACLU. They are all the same.

And so it’s important for us to understand the great lesson of the שעיר לעזאזל to get rid of outside influence. That understanding is already a form of teshuvah. And therefore all the Jews who witnessed that, whether they did teshuvah or not, but they understood it and they learned that great lesson. That lesson, the understanding itself of what it means to throw the sa’ir la’azazel down the mountain, is the fundamental method of repentance for everything and that is why it helps for everybody, teshuvah or no teshuvah. Because the lesson itself was a form of teshuvah

Of course, it’s better if you act on that understanding. Because if you have a television in your house, you are staring in the face of Eisav and you are listening to Eisav’s Torah,  and so what’s the lesson worth? On motzei Yom Kippur when you come home and put on the television, you are bringing the שעיר לעזאזל back to life again. So instead, you take the television up on the roof and throw it down; that is a שעיר לעזאזל. That’s what it means to throw the he-goat of Eisav off the cliff.

TAPE # 391 (December 1981)

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