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Sandro Rosell
FC Barcelona President
Friday, June 23, 2017

The first Aliyah of Acharei Mot which we read on Shabbat afternoon and Monday morning and which we will read again on Thursday morning and Shabbat and again on Yom Kippur describes what is perhaps the strangest and most dramatic element of the Avodah – the priestly service on Yom Kippur. It is the ritual of the two goats brought to the High Priest who randomly places lots on each where one will be offered as a sacrifice and the other sent away into the desert “to Azazel.” The rabbis explain that these two goats were for all intents and purposes indistinguishable from one another. The Talmud teaches that they were chosen to be as similar as possible in size and appearance. Then lots are drawn and although they start out identical, their fates are as drastically different as can be.  

The one on which the lot “To the L-rd” fell was offered as a sacrifice. One is literally LeHashem – To Hashem and his blood is sprinkled within the Holy of Holies. The other may think that he has been spared, and although his twin went for a Holy cause, at least he gets to live. But then the second stands as the Kohen Gadol confessed the sins of the nation. He is then taken away into the desert hills outside Jerusalem. Perhaps again he thinks, they are sending me to freedom to roam these hills in peace.  Standing on the cliff, he looks out at his new domain and appreciates his luck. If this goat had any idea of why he was being taken to this rocky cliff, he would not be thinking anything close to these thoughts. Poor goat, if he only knew that he would end up being tossed off the mountainside into the sharp stones below, he would never think himself lucky. 

First let us consider the lesson offered by the great, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch who explains that the two goats represent the choices each one of us makes every day of our lives. Two may start out exactly the same, but their fates based on their choices may be polar opposites. We decide to follow the right path which may appear more difficult or the easy path which may appear to be paved and easily crossed. Some of us choose the moral path and we accept that it comes with sacrifices. We assist others and give charity even though it appears that by giving up our time and money, we lose. 

Religiously, we may choose to observe the laws of Kashrut which means we’ll be spending more on food and have considerably less choices. Compare this first individual to the one who chooses a life free from religious or moral rules. He gets to relish in what he sees as a life of earthly indulgences without restriction. He thinks this will bring him joy and happiness, yet we see that forgetting even his end, that most that chose this path don’t even enjoy the initial contentment which eventually loses its appeal. 

Rabbi Hirsch explains the word Azazel as a contraction of az azel - strength departs. The hedonistic path will in the end bring us neither bliss nor contentment, but it will eventually zap our strength. He cautions us to endeavor to direct our energies and resources to holier quests which are a guaranteed investment for the future.

This is a beautiful lesson, but as I reviewed this on the morning we commemorate yom hazikaron ("Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers of Israel and Victims of Terrorism" is Israel's official Remembrance Day, enacted into law in 1963), I had a second thought. When I said the Hashkava this morning for one man’s brother who died in the Six Day War of 67 and another man’s friend who died in the Yom Kippur war of 73, the thought of the two who begin the same yet follow different paths struck me. Although Rav Hirsch divides them because of choices made, the thought that the goats had no choice and were selected by lottery or Heaven yielded this second perspective.

I still recall the first time, more than thirty years ago when we were working on the Hilton Hotel and spent a weekend in Tel Aviv and prayed in the Aleppo Synagogue which was near the hotel. On one of the walls was a memorial to fallen soldiers. Although I didn’t know a single one of those who had fought for the Jewish people and gave his life for the cause, I knew every one of their names. 

The names on the wall were the exact same names as those of my dearest friend and relatives. There were Gindis and Tawils and Kassins and Suttons and Cohens and Dwecks. And I stood there, not much older than most of those boys on that wall when they gave their lives. And whether I knew them or not, those boys are and will always be my cousins, my friends and my brothers. Hashem may have sent us on different paths, but there is no question that we are the same. And as a cousin, a friend and a brother, I mourn their deaths as I do each of the soldiers who gave their life for me and for us.

I spoke with my son Moses this morning as he was returning from a service on Har Herzl. Mount Herzl has been the site of the main Israeli Defense Forces cemetery since 1949, with graves and memorials dedicated to soldiers who have fallen in the line of duty since Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. He told me of the many people there today and he stopped to sit and speak with an older woman as she sat by her son’s grave. She told him all about her son and he was sure that in listening to her, she was in some ways comforted from some of the deep pain she must feel every day of her life. 

When we would ask Rabbi Abittan z’tl, about traveling the world to visit the graves of the righteous, he would quote the RIshon LeSiyon. Rav Ovadia Yosef z’sl who would ask why travel the world, quoting the Gadol HaDor, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach who would stand across from the national cemetery on Mt. Herzl and say: "These are the graves of the righteous who died sanctifying Hashem's Name.”.

Although by the time you read this, Memorial Day will be over and we will have celebrated Yom HaAtzmaut, when we read of the two goats on Shabbat, the two twin goats separated by lottery, we should not only be reminded to make sacrificial choices as Rav Hirsch suggests, we should be reminded of the sacrifices our brothers have made and continue to make for us. 

This period as Rav Ovadia writes,  should not only serve as a day to mourn our fallen soldiers whose death is as painful to us as the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash, but it should also serve as a time of self-introspection (Isnt this what the Omer is about?). We must strive to uphold the traditions of our ancestors by returning to the Torah as the verse states, “Return to Me and I shall return to you.” So many of our fallen brethren have made the ultimate sacrifice in order to ensure the continuation of our nation, a nation dedicated to Torah and Misvot.  Where is our sacrifice? 

If we had iPhones in those days, I would have certainly taken an image of the wall in the Synagogue in Tel Aviv and placed it by my desk as a reminder. If perhaps one of you has an image, please send it to me. May Hashem avenge their blood and may their souls stand, each as a melitz yashar; an advocate for us, their brothers and sisters, cousins and friends, in the Heavenly courts.  May Hashem end our pain and bring Mashiach Bimhera NeYameynu, Amen! 

By: Rabbi David Bibi