Acharay-Kedoshim by Rabbi David Hartley Mark

Acharei-Mot-Kedoshim Dvar Drash

Acharay-Kedoshim: The Scapegoat’s Testimony

by Rabbi David Hartley Mark


Call me Azazel, the Scapegoat. When my Brother Goat and I were chosen and brought forth as sacrifices—he to serve as a burnt-offering, and I—well, I will tell you of my fate—I thought little of it. We goats are not deep thinkers, and sufferance is the badge of all our flock. I overheard Aaron, the High Priest, telling his sons Elazar and Itamar that they were to tie a red thread between my horns. A red thread, for me? I thought. I imagined myself the handsomest goat of our kind—who else qualifies to wear a thread, or a red ribbon?

Only after Itamar tied the scarlet thread between my horns, talking all the while of my coming death, did I begin to comprehend my fate—to bear all the sins of Israel into the wilderness, and be thrown off a cliff, to be crushed on the rocks below.

“What have I done?” I bleated at Itamar in goat-language, but he, of course, could not understand me.

Itamar was a mild, loving soul—in this, he somewhat resembled his austere, distant, commanding father, Aaron, in his younger days—he patted my head, and whispered into my long, dangling ears,

“You will be flung off a cliff, poor goatling. Still, this is necessary: we must absolve our People Israel of their sins against the LORD GOD, and we must also placate Azazel, the Desert Demon.”

What is a demon? I thought. 

Itamar did not answer, but instead penned me up with other sacrificial goats, near the Tent of Meeting where their prophet, Moses, receives messages from their God. I am a goat, of weak, animal mind, and cannot receive prophecy, but I certainly do not wish to die.

It was good to be among my goat-people, and I brushed up against a nanny goat who appeared older and more experienced than the younglings who galloped round the pen, kicking up their heels—

Poor fools, I thought, not knowing that they are about to be sacrificed! And as for me—

Well, my fate was equally painful, if not more. I beheld my soon-to-be-late brother being led away by Elazar, who had a sharpened knife concealed on the side which my Brother Goat could not detect.

“You poor fellow!” the Nanny told me, “I heard you were to be scapegoat this year.”

The young kids slowed their capers and quietly eased over to listen to us.

“If I am to die, I will,” I replied, feeling the fatalism of it all, “but what is my purpose, besides being a bearer of sins which I did not commit? We goats are pure of heart and animal soul, and, besides occasionally stealing grass or hay from one another from sheer hunger, are incapable of sin.”

“For the heart of Man and Woman is exceeding deep,” said the Nanny, nodding wisely, “Who can know it?”

“Tell me my fate, Mistress Nanny,” I begged, since she appeared to know more of man’s ways than I.

“You will plunge over the cliff, and your death will come in an instant,” she told me, grimly.

“To what purpose?” I pressed her.

“There is the mighty Demon Azazel,” she answered, her eyes narrowing at his name, “and you are the tasty morsel which the Israelites have prepared for him.”

“Is his purpose good or evil?” I asked.

“He is the King of Evil,” said the Nanny, and the kids trembled at this, “but the Israelites placate him with a choice dish—that is, yourself—in hopes that he will not afflict them.”

“Are not the Powers of Good and Evil ultimately in the hands of the Israelite God?” I persisted, wishing to know more about the purpose of my death.

“Azazel is a general in the Army of God, only an evil one,” replied the Nanny, “and, just as these humans offer their finest food to a mercurial general, in hopes that he will look upon them kindly and not afflict them, so do they send you out into the wilderness where Azazel dwells.”

“Does Evil reign over humanity, then?” I asked.

“All is in the hands of their God,” said the Nanny, “both Good and Evil, and ultimately serve God’s ends, no matter how obscure they appear to us.”

The kids were horrified, galloped off to the pen’s farthest reaches, and stood there, trembling. Only not for long: as the Nanny and I watched, a sub-Levite undid the latch, and gathered three kids for a guilt-offering. We listened to their mindless, innocent bleating as he led them to the slaughter.

Now, I wander through the desert, watched from a distance by three appointed Levites, who will force me over a cliff. I can see the edge of the mountain as I slowly climb up. The Nanny cautioned that I will have no choice in the matter, no means of escape.

“At the cliff’s edge,” she said with an air of finality, “a strong wind will lift you up, and dash you against the rocks. Go in peace.”

I am resigned: I am no philosopher, merely a goat. As I approach the cliff—and I note that my Levite escorts are closing in all around me, ready to fling me down—I cogitate that, perhaps, this goat-world which I inhabit, in which Man controls who lives and dies, is an entirely imaginary one. I study the rocks, both whole and broken, which lie about the cliff’s edge. My grave awaits at the foot of the cliff; who knows what kites and vultures will feast on my remains? And I know that, come next year, another innocent goat will be offered up—and cast down—to Azazel, for the reasons of God and Man—reasons I cannot begin to fathom.

As for me, here and now, I will go joyfully. Whatever fate awaits me after death will be real, with no complications, ridicule, or deception. May God, or Azazel, be praised: in that other-world, even I, the Scapegoat, cannot be deceived.

Rabbi David Hartley Mark is from New York City’s Lower East Side. He attended Yeshiva University, the City University of NY Graduate Center for English Literature, and received semicha at the Academy for Jewish Religion. He currently teaches English at Everglades University in Boca Raton, FL, and has a Shabbat pulpit at Temple Sholom of Pompano Beach. His literary tastes run to Isaac Bashevis Singer, Stephen King, King David, Kohelet, Christopher Marlowe, and the Harlem Renaissance.


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