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Dan Has Questions About - Goats? Parshat Acharei Mot

04/28/2022 08:30:13 AM

Apr28

Dan Lemon

With Passover now over, we return to our regular weekly Torah portions with Acharei Mot, "after the death". This refers to the death of Aaron's sons after they brought "strange fire" into the Mishkan (Tabernacle), as we talked about a couple of weeks ago.The Parshah begins with instructions to Aaron about when he can enter the holiest section of the Mishkan, providing details about what he should wear and what sacrifice he should bring.

- It is important how we are dressed when we come to our synagogue, and how we behave there? Why?

- Are there other places you go or things you do for which you wear certain clothes?

Acharei Mot then discusses atonement -the process of apologizing and being forgiven for the not-so-great we do. God commands us to observe the Holy Day of Yom Kippur - in fact, we read some of this Parshah on Yom Kippur - and gives specific instructions for how to atone. The Torah describes in detail and atonement ceremony involving two goats. One goat is used as a sacrifices. As to the other goat: God commands Aaron to confess all of our sins, intentional and unintentional, symbolically placing them on the head of the other goat. This goat is sent to the wilderness, metaphorically carrying our sins away with it. This is the origin of the term "scapegoat" (at one point translated as the "escape goat"). And yet: One of our core beliefs as Jews is that we are responsible for our own behavior, and, if we do something wrong, we are responsible for apologizing, atoning, and making it right. So:

- How might you have felt if you were there in ancient times as the second goat carried your sins away into the wilderness? Was this useful to our ancestors way back then? 

- What do you think about this ceremony of atonement? Is it possible for this ceremony - or any ceremony - to make up for our sins?

- Aaron asks for forgiveness on our behalf. Would it make you feel better if someone else asked for forgiveness on your behalf today? Why or why not? If so, whom would you pick to do this? 

- Are there times when you might have done something wrong unintentionally and not realized it? If you do something wrong unintentionally, how do you make up for it?

- Does it ever happen that you do something you think is fine, but someone else thinks it's wrong? Do you have to apologize or atone for this?

The Parshah then continues to differentiate our practices as Jews from other peoples of those days - such as the Egyptians and the Canaanites. God commands us not to eat blood as other people did, and tells us what the reason is that the soul of any creature is in its blood.

- What does the word "soul" mean to you?

- Do animals have souls? Do people?

God also commands us not to take on the practices of other peoples or become like them. Remember that, in the Torah's context, these other nations did not believe in the God who is commanding us to do these things.

- What does the word "soul" mean to you?

- Do animals have souls? Do people?

God also commands us not to take on the practices of other peoples or become like them. Remember that, in the Torah's context, these other nations did not believe in the God who is commanding us to do these things.

- Here's a difficult question: Does this mean that we as Jews are somehow "better" than the other people whose practice we're not supposed to emulate?

- Is there value in being different (as a people, or as an individual)? Why or why not?

- In what ways are you different from other people (regardless of whether they are Jewish or not)?

- Are there times when you enjoy being different from others, and are there times when you would just like to be the same as everyone else?

- When is it important for people not to emphasize all of their differences but come together and agree on something? What does it take to do that?

Like any balance we try to achieve, celebrating and making the most of our differences, while agreeing and uniting when we need to, can be a big challenge - and one i hope we all continue to think about and learn to do.

 

Shabbat shalom,

Dan

Sat, May 21 2022 20 Iyyar 5782