Aharon shall place lots upon the two goats: one lot “for God” and one lot “for Azazel.” Aharon shall bring close the goat designated by lot for God and make it a sin-offering. And the goat designated by lot for Azazel shall be stood alive before God, to provide atonement though it, to send it to Azazel into the wilderness.
One of the most puzzling and disturbing rituals in Jewish practice is the goat “for Azazel.” During the afternoon of Yom Kippur, two goats are brought before the Kohein Gadol, the High Priest. By lot, one is chosen to be placed upon the altar as a sin-offering, while the other is taken out into the desert and thrown alive over the edge of a sheer cliff. What purpose could such a practice possibly serve? In truth, the symbolism of this ritual is astonishingly simple and frighteningly relevant. The two goats, identical in every way, symbolize the two possible futures that stretch out before every single human being. Like these goats – which appear indistinguishable from one another – many of the paths open to us in our youth seem equally attractive and filled with opportunity. Every child demonstrates both qualities of virtue and qualities of selfishness. Whether our higher or lower nature will win out in the end can never be reliably predicted.
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