Some of us feel a little strange discussing Yom Kippur in the springtime. What’s the connection between Yom Kippur and Acharei Mos? Rav Dessler helps to resolve the dichotomy by showing how the lessons of the Yom Kippur service apply each day of the year.
One of the central parts of Yom Kippur in the Beis Hamikdash was the service with the two goats. Two identical goats were selected and brought into the Beis Hamikdash. Lots were then drawn. One was sacrificed and its blood was sprinkled inside the Holy of Holies, while the other goat called Seir l’Azazel (the goat for Azazel) was led to a distant precipice and cast off the steep rocky cliff.
Why specifically on Yom Kippur do we cast a goat off a cliff? The Ramban brings the Zohar which tells us the Azazel goat was a bribe to the Satan. Certainly, it’s timely to learn a piece from the Zohar, as this week is Lag Baomer, which marks the yahrzeit of Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai – the author of the Zohar. A bribe to the Satan!! What is that supposed to mean?
I believe the following is a good analogy to help us understand the concept that Rav Dessler says the Zohar is alluding to. As a boy, I was very interested in the martial arts. Martial arts help harness our energy and deliver focused strikes. One doesn’t need to be muscular to defend himself from a strong opponent. Many forms exist, but the method I liked most was Akido, which uses the opponent’s own energy to gain control over him.
This is an analogy to our everyday encounter with the yetzer harah(evil inclination), the force inside us which is constantly attempting to ensnare us in its evil web. Rav Dessler explains there are two methods one can take to defend oneself. The first is a head-on approach, using strong willpower to overcome our urges and temptations. The challenge with this method is it’s very difficult to constantly go head-on. In a moment of weakness, we are likely to find ourselves flat on the floor before we even realize what happened.
The other method is to bribe to the Satan–the Seir to Azazel–by using the yetzer harah’s own tricks against itself. The approach of the yetzer harah is often to convince us to do something small, with its goal to slowly desensitize the person and to keep increasing the bad deed. Sometimes, it presents an “opportunity” as urgent, something that must be done immediately! We can, however, appease the Satan by saying “yes” I will do what you are asking … in a few minutes. We can therefore push it off indefinitely. This diffuses the impulse, using the yetzer harah’s own tactics against it.
We can use this Akido-like strategy when we are being tempted to sleep late, or to say a sharp comment, or to check our phone during davening. True, we can go head-on by saying “no”, but we can use the appeasement approach by saying “yes” … in a few minutes. A friend of mine employed a variation on this tactic. He really enjoyed steak dinners, but he also wanted to learn more. So, he resolved that every time he would complete a Gemara, he would grill the choicest steaks. The Satan heard “eating steaks”, but my friend used this potentially base motivation for the higher goal of learning Torah. He delayed it with learning Gemara first. This approach helped him to complete many masechtos of Gemara.
This whole approach, says Rabbi Hirsch, is alluded to in the word Azazel. The word Azazel is a hybrid of two words. Az – strong – and Azal – to move. We should utilize the strength of our opponent to move forward in a positive direction.
In many years, including the current one, Parshas Acharei Mos is read together with Parshas Kedoshim. Upon closer examination, we see the two are linked by our above concept. Kedusha is not accomplished by abstinence, but utilizing both our strengths and weaknesses for a special purpose that is noble and brings us closer to Hashem. On Shabbos, we eat our best foods and drink our best wines. On Yom Tov, we wear our finest clothes. On Seder night, we fill our table with silver and crystal. We utilize our opponent’s energy to propel us forward, by transforming what could be materialistic into holy acts to honor the Almighty.
Let us resolve to not let our yetzer harah control us, but rather to use its cunning for holy accomplishment.