It’s a story of divergence,
and it ends with a cliffhanger.
Every year on Yom Kippur, two identical goats were brought to the Beis HaMikdash and lots were drawn to determine which would be “for Hashem” (a special korban) and which would be “for Azazel” (pushed off a cliff). Which animal was considered the lucky winner of this lottery?
Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch zt”l (in his work, B’Maaglei Shanah) imagined that if these goats could speak, the one “for Azazel” would certainly feel that he had achieved the better outcome and even dodged a bullet. “That poor animal,” he would sympathize. “He was brought inside and slaughtered, while I was released to the great outdoors – and to this great mountain scenery, no less! If only he could have been as lucky as me.” The goat “for Hashem” may also have felt this inequity as he wistfully watched his companion being led outside to the free world while he remained confined inside, preparing to be slaughtered.
These animals might feel differently, however, if only they could realize that the Azazel scapegoat is on a collision course destined to end in a tragic, brutal fall from heights. Meanwhile, his friend’s religious sacrifice has the rare privilege of entering the Holy of Holies. Through a short-sighted lens, the Azazel animal appears to emerge triumphant and fortunate, but by the time we arrive at the end of the story, it becomes clear who is the true GOAT (Greatest Of All Time).
This way of thinking is not limited to the animal kingdom. It is common, Rav Hirsch continues, for a person living the hedonistic Azazel lifestyle to mock his religious neighbor who dedicates his life “for Hashem.” He looks at his own freedoms and pities the one who is trapped “inside,” confined to a difficult, often painful, life of sacrifice. “It’s a shame he can’t get out more and see how many beautiful tall mountains life has to offer.” This sentiment may be shared by the devoted Jew. It can feel unfair to look “outside” and see his buddy enjoying a free rein, while he is restricted to the service of Hashem. Sometimes it is only at the end of their lives that each realizes and appreciates the true meaning of heights and beauty.
Our lives of avodas Hashem may seem difficult at times, but the closeness with Hashem we achieve in the process is infinitely rewarding. We may not get to explore every mountain in the world, but we’ll cherish our special place in the Holy of Holies!