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Parashat Achary Mot


                                                                                                                                 (Vayikra 16:5)


The Azazel Goat As Symbolic Carrier of Sins

It appears to me that the reason that all the chattat (sin) offerings, both individual and public, are goats, i.e., the goats of the festivals and the goats of New Moons, and the goats of Yom HaKippurim and the goats of idolatry - is that the most severe sin perpetrated in those days was the sacrificing to the hairy goat-demons, as clarified by Scripture: "That they may slaughter no longer to the hairy goat-demons after whom they go whoring. A law for the ages shall this be for them, throughout their generations" (Vayikra 17:7). The sages, however, determined that the reason that public atonement offerings must be goats is that the first transgression executed by the entire assembly of Israel was with a hairy goat. The sages allude to the selling of Yosef the Tzaddik, as is written: "They slew a hairy goat and dipped the coat in blood. They had the ornamented coat sent out and had it brought to their father and said: We found this; pray recognize whether it is your son's coat or not!" (Bereishit 37:31-32). Do not belittle this explanation, for the purpose of all ritual is that there must take root in the soul of every sinner the awareness that he must recall his sin, he must remember it constantly, as is written "I am ever conscious of my sin" (Psalms 51:5), and that it is obligatory to ask atonement for this sin, he and his children and his children's children - a mitzvah which bears some relation to the sin...


And since the purpose of the hairy goat which is sent off to the desert is to atone for transgressions so serious that the chattat tzibbur - the public sin offering - cannot atone for that which it [the hairy goat] atones, and it, as it were, carries off all these sins, we do not engage at all in slaughter, nor in burning, nor in sacrificing - we simply send it as far away as possible. We send it off to the wilderness [literally, 'a land cut off'], i.e. cut off from settlement. Let no man doubt that that the sins are not objects carried on an individual's back transferred to another being. All these acts are symbolic, for the sake of creating an impression upon his soul so that this be a stimulus to repentance, that is to say, that we be cleansed of all our earlier actions, we have thrown them behind us, and distanced them as far as is possible.

 ("Guide for the Perplexed" of Rambam, Book III, Chap. 46)





Shira Leibowitz Schmidt

Parashat Aharey Mot:

"You shall observe my statues and judgments, which a man shall do to live by/in/through them." (Lev. 18:5)


The following discussion is in two parts. My intention is that the reader read only part 1. I suggest the reader not read part 2.


Part 1

The Jerusalem Talmud (Yoma 8:5) posits that if a person, while caring for a mortally ill patient, goes to ask a scholar whether to desecrate Yom Kippur in order to save the patient's life, the caregiver is considered to have shed blood. This is not hard to understand, for the patient is liable to die while the caregiver goes to ask the scholar. The same passage says that the scholar who was consulted is worthy of censure! Of what is the scholar guilty?

This is but one of the myriad of intricate laws that fall under the rubric of pikuah nefesh (mortal danger). In the above case, the scholar is faulted because he should have publicized the basic halakhic principle that all mitzvot are suspended in the face of mortal danger, with the exception of the prohibitions of idolatry, forbidden unions, and murder.

The Talmud (San.74a) derives this from a verse in our parashah, Aharey Mot. "You shall observe my statutes and judgments, which if a man do, he shall live by them, I am HaShem." (Lev. 18:5) This verse is also read on Yom Kippur when the list of forbidden unions is read during Minha, an indication of the high priority that is accorded to these passages.

The Hebrew wording of the verse under consideration raises several problems. What is the meaning of the phrase, "if a man do, he shall live by them" [Hebrew: asher yaaseh otam haAdam v'hai bahem]? Even those who most closely observe the statues and judgments eventually return their souls to their Maker, so "he shall live by them" presents a difficulty. One resolution of this difficulty is suggested by Onkelos who translates it "he shall live by them in the world to come."

Ramban sees our verse as a statement that means "You shall observe the judgments... and their performance will ensure a peaceful and orderly society... [some] will live in this world a long and prosperous life...[others] will merit to be delivered from suffering... [still others] will merit a comfortable life in this world and the world to come."

Almost all English translations of the verse reflect the logical format:

If X then Y;

If a man do, then he shall live by them. Here are some translations.

Chavel and Soncino: if a man do, he shall live by them...

Birnbaum: ... if a man obeys, he shall live...

Koren: if a man do, he shall live in them...

Hirsch: if a man do, he shall live thereby...

In all, observing the precepts (X) is the condition and living (Y) is the result.

An exception to this understanding is found in the recent Artscroll-Mesorah translation, it results in a very different interpretation. "You are to observe My decrees and My laws that a person should observe and by which he will live." We have a reversal of the condition and result. "Observe" yes, but only on the condition that "he will live" . Observance (X) is the result, and living (Y) is the condition. It is as if the verse said, "You are to observe... as long as you can also live."... to live by them and not die by them, stipulates Maimonides (Hilkhot Yesodei HaTorah 5,1-2). Thus, the various laws of pikuah nefesh (mortal danger) are derived from the two words "v'hai bahem."

This is the pivotal subject on which hinges the discussion by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, formerly Chief Sefardi Rabbi of Israel, of whether the mitzvah of settling Eretz Yisrael suspends the principle of pikuah nefesh or not. Rav Yosef has written a succinct, lucid, and nuanced analysis of this question, published in volume 10 in Hebrew in the series Tehumim from Machon Zomet. He brings all of his unparalleled learning to bear on the question in clear, contemporary Hebrew. A superb English translation appears in Crossroads: Halacha and the Modern World III, Alon Shvut: Zomet, 1990.

(The English and Hebrew can be obtained from Machon Zomet tel. 02-993-1442). The volumes published by Zomet also contain other articles on the subject including a point-by-point rejoinder by R. Shaul Yisraeli.

The best way to understand Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's argument is to read the original, for which there is no adequate substitute.


Part 2

However, until the reader can obtain a copy of the original discussion by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, and in order to whet the reader's appetite to read it, I offer a summary below of the major topics in his discussion, titled, "Ceding Territory of the Land of Israel in Order to Save Lives."

Writing in 1989, he states that "out the outset, I am not about to deliver a halakhic ruling whether the government of Israel should return territories of the Land of Israel or not, and this for two reasons: The first is that... at present, there is no negotiating partner ...This is conveyed in the verse ' I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war' (Ps. 120:7)... Secondly, I have recently conferred with four experts concerning the military and political implications... and they totally disagreed with each other..." The reason he gives for presenting his views is to counterbalance views that had been gaining adherents. "My purpose ... is to analyze the argument advanced of late, that the importance of the mitzvah of settling Eretz Yisrael is greater than that of the mitzvah of preserving life, and that one is obligated to risk his life for the settlement of the Land. My discussion will therefore be on... whether the mitzvah of settling Eretz Yisrael suspends the principle of mortal danger..."

Before continuing, Rav Yosef devotes a section to the importance of settling Eretz Yisrael and the sanctity of the Land. The texts cited include Sifre (Deut. 12:29) describing the trauma experienced by Rabbis Elazar and Yochanan during Talmudic times when they were leaving Eretz Yisrael for the purposes of study. "They raised their eyes in tears, tore their clothes.... Lo Techoneim." This passage stirs me to think - how many tears do we shed at Ben-Gurion airport when we leave for lesser purposes?!

Rav Yosef expands on the discussion of "mortal danger" (pikuah nefesh) and elaborates on the example we cited above in the beginning of Part 1, the Yerushalmi's instance of an extremely ill patient for whom we violate Yom Kippur, and for which the prooftext is the passage from our Parashah, "You shall observe my statutes and judgments, which if a man do, he shall live by them." This is followed by a lengthy analysis of the "Prohibition of Lo Techoneim" derived from the verse 7:2 in Deuteronomy, which is usually translated "...do not show them mercy...", and related passages such as "they shall not dwell in your Land" (Exodus 23:32). After citing all sides of issues raised by Lo Techoneim and after analyzing the parameters of this rubric, Rav Yosef concludes that "the prohibition applies only to idolaters but not to Moslems." Among the many authorities he cites is Rav A. Y. Kook (Mishpat Kohen 63) who also concluded that Moslems are not included in the prohibition. [Editor's note: A lengthy analysis of this subject alone can be found in the chapter by Rav Ovadia Yosef in Minhat Aharon, a memorial volume for Rav Aharon Shweika, edited by Yaakov Shweika and R. Hayim Sabato.]

"Mortal Danger Suspends Lo Techoneim" is the subtitle of the next section. "This discussion ... is relevant only where a state of mortal danger does not exist. If our statesmen and military experts will decide that danger to life exists, that there is a danger of imminent war ... if we do not cede sections of Eretz Yisrael, while on the contrary ceding land will reduce the danger of war, with a chance for a lasting and genuine peace, it would definitely be permitted to return the territories for this purpose..." (Emphasis added S.L.S.) Rav Yosef returns to the analogy of deciding whether a sick person should eat on Yom Kippur. "The diagnosis will be made by a doctor, even a non-Jew... The patient is not permitted to be more strict and fast; on the contrary, he would be considered responsible for the loss of life were he to do so (see Maimonides, Milhamot, San.9)." A doubt vis-à-vis "mortal danger" is ruled leniently, as the Shulhan Arukh rules (OH 618:4) that if doctors disagree, we feed the patient, even if the doctors advocating not eating are more numerous or more expert. Rav Yosef applies this to our case, "If the experts disagree, with some of them stating that there is no pikuah nefesh in our situation, while others declare that without withdrawal there is a danger of immediate war and pikuah nefesh , the doubt should be resolved leniently, and the territories must be ceded in order to prevent loss of life."

Rav Yosef is well aware that there is a different approach, commonly held today, that places Eretz Yisrael above pikuah nefesh. "We must analyze the mitzvah of settling the Land... in light of the statement of Ramban (Nachmanides, Addenda to Sefer Hamitzvot,4) that the verse 'You shall dispossess the land (of its inhabitants) and dwell in it' constitutes an obligation 'not to abandon it in the hands of other nations...This is what the Sages call an obligatory war.'... It may be claimed that pikuah nefesh is not a factor in our decision. The Minhat Hinukh (425) comments that 'the Torah has commanded us to fight... even though there is danger. Hence (the principle of) danger is suspended in this case...'"

 Rav Yosef next contends with this view. "However... once the Jews were exiled from the Land, the mitzvah is not in force...On the contrary, the Sages have stated (Ket.111a): 'I impose an oath on you... that you stir not up, nor awaken...' - that they not ascend the wall (Rashi: that they not go up [to Eretz Yisrael] together by force), that they not rebel against the nations of the world, and that they not force the end, the redemption." After further discussion of this in the light of other commentators and poskim (Rashbash, Rivash, and Ramban himself) Rav Yosef writes, "we may therefore conclude that even according to the Ramban there is no obligation today to go to war and endanger ourselves in order to defend the conquered territories in opposition to the nations of the world, especially as we do not have a king, Sanhedrin, or the urim vetumim which are prerequisites for war."

As for relying on miracles or Heavenly intervention, as occurred for example in the generation of King Hizkiyahu (2 Kings 19:35) Rav Yosef doubts that this can apply to a "bereaved generation such as ours, where there are great gaps in Jewish education, in the modesty of Jewish women, in the observance of Shabbat, festivals, kashrut, etc. We definitely must beware of the repercussions of our sins, and cannot rely on miracles, until that time when G-d's spirit will bring us all to perfect repentance."

Again, the reader is encouraged to read the original essay, which examines the problem from several other vantage points and includes topics such as the aforementioned case of King Hizkiyahu ( Talmud Pesahim 56a, as an example of trust in G-d vs. human endeavor, bitahon baShem vs. hishtadlut); the law of border settlements; and imminent danger vs. possible future danger.

In conclusion Rav Ovadia Yosef writes that "if it can be determined beyond all doubt that ceding territory will lead to a genuine peace... the territories should be returned, as nothing stands in the way of pikuah nefesh... May G-d inspire the government... and grant them wisdom. May the guardian of Israel guard the remnant of Israel... and may it be that 'Yaakov shall return and be calm, and none shall make him afraid.'".

Shira Leibowitz Schmidt teaches English in the Haredi College, Jerusalem, which has recognized B.A. programs in social work, computers, business management, laboratory sciences, and other disciplines. Two of her six children worked with her on this article.



The Shoah - Punishment? A Necessary Stage in the Process of Geula? Can We Possibly Understand?

In the past, very serious things were said regarding the Shoah. There were those who claimed the Shoah was an instrument, a price the Jewish people had to pay so that the State of Israel could be established. Some argued that the Jewish State is compensation for the destruction wreaked by the Shoah. It was also posited that this was the only method to cause Jews - actually, to force them - to emigrate to Eretz Yisrael. These are most serious notions; it is painful to listen to them...

In the entire world there is no accomplishment, no blessing, which can serve as compensation for the incineration of tens of thousands of innocents. All words in this context, i.e., linking the establishment of the State to the Shoah - ring hollow. Neither the real Eretz Yisrael - which sometimes bleeds for its survival - nor the ideal State of Israel of the vision "Every man beneath his grapevine and beneath his fig tree" can provide the slightest justification for what happed to the Jewish people during the years of the Shoah.

(From Harav Y. Amital's article "אף על פי שמיצר ומימר לי" and from a lecture published in Moshe Maya's book ""עולם בנוי וחרב ובנוי - ספריית הגיונות- published by תבונות, Yaakov Herzog College at Yeshivat Har Etzion. This volume is highly recommended).



Readers Write:

Dr. Avraham Ahlama argues (Issue 284 - Shemini) that the defining of burning fire as a Shabbat labor is influenced by our scientific understanding of the nature of the chemical reaction that occurs during the burning. "Since the publication of the periodic table of elements by Mendeleev and the Laws of Thermodynamics of Clausius in the middle of the 19th century, it became necessary to remove fire and its related laws from the framework of the Laws of the Shabbat." The change in the scientific understanding of the burning process is, in itself, quite interesting, but we cannot take for granted that this requires a change in the halachic ruling.

Halacha, like every legal system, has the right to create for itself a legal reality that exists only within its domain, even though it contradicts the real world. In the laws of Shabbat, the carrying of an object within private domain is permitted, while in public domain it is forbidden, despite the fact that from a physical viewpoint the work performed is identical. Ilan Ramon, z"l, asked someone about the time of receiving the Shabbat in the space shuttle. According to Dr. Ahlama's approach, Ramon should have welcomed and departed from the Shabbat every seventh revolution around the planet earth!

The striving for a Torah of truth demands changes in Halacha and its adaptation to a changing reality. Changes in reality can mean addition or absence of elements previously present. Change in reality can also mean that ancient halachic rulings provided answers to questions that were essentially different from those asked in our day. In such instances it would be proper to weigh the possibility of creating halacha. Our scientific understanding of the world is not the power which motivates authority to deliver a specific ruling, and therefore it cannot be the stimulus for innovation or change.

                                                                                    With blessings,

                                                                                    Yishai Ofran




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