Go to Azazel!

Dear Rabbi,
In law school I was taught the concept of “The Reasonable Man”. Synonyms for “reasonable”    are “sensible”, “rational”, or “logical” among others. The concept of “The Reasonable Man” comes into play in discussions of the civil law specifically torts and how to judge whether someone behaved in an improper manner when dealing with another. It seems like a simple thing to act in a “reasonable” manner, but in reality it is an ideal that is difficult to attain as one goes through life.
You have indicated to me that interpreting Leviticus is a tough part of the Torah to explain in today’s way of thinking but how can Achare-Kedoshim not be something that a rabbi would look forward to explaining as examples as to how Jews are supposed to act in the world?
In preparing my thoughts on today’s parshah I read the following:  Kedoshim is the dictum which the great sage Rabbi Akiva called a cardinal principle of Torah, and of which Hillel said, “This is the entire Torah, the rest is commentary”—“Love your fellow as yourself.”
The list of what to follow as derived from this parshah include such things as forbiding the consumption of blood, and details of the laws prohibiting incest and other deviant sexual relations. It goes on to cite the following rules: the prohibition against idolatry, the mitzvah of charity, the principle of equality before the law, Shabbat, sexual moralityhonesty in business, honor and awe of one’s parents, and the sacredness of life.
Isn’t what is stated above the goal of “The Reasonable Man” but in reality how many of us can say that we adhere to most of what is asked of us as Jews especially as it is stated in this parshah.
If I have any problem with this parshah, it stems from some of the rituals of what was called for back in the day. The whole thing about animal sacrifices does not appeal to me at all, but I would think that if we ever gain complete control of the Holy Temple, some of our more “devout” brethren may think it necessary to go back to some of these ritualistic references, which for me would be a reason to “look elsewhere” for where I search for my faith.
Getting to specifics, I have some questions. 
In the First Aliyah at Leviticus 16:4 when the High Priest enters the Holy of Holies during Yom Kippur the following is stated:
“He shall wear a holy linen shirt and linen pants shall be upon his flesh, and he shall gird himself with a linen sash and wear a linen cap these are holy garments, [and therefore,] he shall immerse himself in water and don them.”
Later in the First Aliyah at Leviticus 16:23 the following is stated:
“And Aaron shall enter the Tent of Meeting and remove the linen garments that he had worn when he came into the Holy, and there, he shall store them away.”
Where do we as Jews get our ability to where a kittel?  A kittel is a white linen or cotton robe worn by religious Jews on holidays especially during Yom Kippur, in the synagogue or at home when leading the Passover Seder. Kittels are sometimes worn by grooms. It is also customary for Jews to be buried in a kittel. Does the use of a kittel derive its origins from what the High Priest wore in the Holy of Holies one day of the year and if so what gives an “ordinary” Jew the right to wear such a garment?
Also in the First Aliyah at Leviticus 16:8 the following is stated:
And Aaron shall place lots upon the two he goats: one lot "For the Lord," and the other lot, "For Azazel."
As I understand Azazel, he was the personification of uncleanliness and in later rabbinic writing he was sometimes described as a fallen angel. Why is Azazel signaled out for significance? Unless I am mistaken, I do not think any other “angel” as mentioned in the Torah has any specific name.
While I am looking at specific references to the Parshah, in the Third Aliyah at Leviticus 18:21 the name of Molech is mentioned as follows:
“And you shall not give any of your offspring to pass through for Molech. And you shall not profane the Name of your God. I am the Lord.”
Moloch or as he is sometimes mentioned as Molech was a Canaanite deity to which the people offered their own children as sacrifices by fire. A disgusting practice for sure, but why is Molech given any more notoriety than any other religious idol? It was my understanding that the practice of human sacrifice was followed by other religions as well so why is Molech mentioned by name?
While we are at it, I again would like to mention my distain for any type of animal sacrifice so why was it given such prominence in the Torah. I realize that sacrifice was a normal practice when the Torah was written, but if we are to believe that it was dictated to Moses by G-d, why didn’t the Almighty understand that this type of tribute was barbaric and should not have been allowed at all? I go back to my fear that if the Temple is rebuilt, some within our religion might look at the passages of the Torah in the literal sense and go back to a practice that in my opinion, should not be followed. 


Dear Mordecai,

I understand your concern about the return of animal sacrifices. Religious fanaticism knows no bounds. I imagine that if we did have full access to the Temple Mount, then a movement would be afoot to rebuild the Temple and to offer sacrifices once again.

I agree with you that Achari Mot-Kedoshim offers a wonderful opportunity to the rabbi to teach the flock about how we should behave as a people committed to holiness, which as you rightly point out is one step beyond even “The Reasonable Man.”

My goal this week is to discuss “Love your fellow as yourself” (19:18). I ask a series of questions:

  • Why does the Torah tell us to “love” your fellow?
  • Why doesn’t the Torah tell us to love our family members, including our parents?
  • If we are instructed to love our fellow, then what does this teach us about love? Is it an emotion or an intellectual disposition?

 Let me address the questions you raise. The kittel does seem to resemble the clothing of the High Priest, and I believe this is intentional. Since the destruction of the Second Temple, the service of Yom Kippur has been democratized. It no longer depends on one person entering the Holy of Holies. Each Jew must seek atonement for herself. That each of us seeks our own atonement is reflected in the common clothing – the kittel – that each of us wears.

No one knows for certain what Azazel is. Some consider it a demon, or fallen angel. I do not. I consider it a place, but a place that doesn’t exist. I would translate Azazel as “nowhere.” The quality of being nowhere is consistent with that goat going out into the wilderness – no man’s land – and falling off a cliff.

Your question around Molech is similar to your question around Azazel. Without question, the Canaanites were the most significant idolatrous people – outside of the Egyptians – that the Israelites encountered. That Molech would gain mention, then, makes sense. The Canaanites and their idolatrous practices posed a unique threat to Israelite worship, if only because that worship occurred in the land the Israelites were meant to inhabit.



Dear Rabbi,
If the kittel has some connection to what the High Priest wore when he went into the Holy of Holies, I think it is completely inappropriate for anyone else to assume he can wear something similar. It was to be worn only once a year by the only person that was allowed into a restricted and revered area, and further was to be taken off when he left, to be used the following year. Wearing the kittel may make the person that dons the garment feel more religious, but I don't think G-d would consider someone to be of a higher standard by wearing one and maybe would consider it a "Nadab and Abihu moment" but without the result they encountered. Maybe at this point, the Almighty is not as aggressive in showing his wrath for those that think they can duplicate what the Lord gives as specific instructions on how the religious aspect of a ceremony should be followed.