This week’s Torah portion Acharei Mot means after the deaths. After the deaths of Aaron’s sons Nadav and Abihu, after they have fulfilled their priestly duties, Aaron and his surviving sons get to mourn their loved ones, their son's brothers who died. Then life goes on. The Book of Leviticus continues distinguishing between what is sacred and profane and what is holy and unholy. The role of the priests is central in this distinction and in serving the needs of the Israelites in covenant with God. So along with offerings of bulls and other animals and produce, Aaron the high priest offers another way for the people to be relieved of their burdens, of their transgressions – the scapegoat.

scapegoatThis is part of the Yom Kippur ritual, which includes accepting responsibility for our sins, mistakes, and when we missed the mark. The Biblical scapegoat is quite different from the modern-day scapegoat. The live goat is brought to the altar. Aaron confesses the iniquities and transgressions of the Israelites over the goat’s head. The goat carries all those iniquities and sins with it and is led to an inaccessible area and set free, symbolically freeing the Israelites of their burdens. The goat is set free and lives as the Israelites move forward from Yom Kippur with a clean slate. The Tashlich ritual on Rosh Hashanah of throwing the crumbs from our pockets into a body of water is also to rid ourselves of what weighs us down, burdens us, our sins and mistakes, and move forward to start anew.

Juxtaposed with the modern conception of a scapegoat, the contemporary version takes something positive and twists it into something hateful and destructive. A scapegoat today is someone or a group who is blamed for things others will not come to terms with, things they did not do. The scapegoater refuses to accept responsibility for problems and their actions, trying to shift the blame to others. We have countless examples of people blaming others for their troubles. The consequences are serious and can be deadly. Scapegoating is one way to denigrate, dehumanize, and cause harm to others.

Judaism offers a system of laws on how we relate to one another and our obligations to our community, other individuals, ourselves, and God. The more we heed our Jewish way of life, the more we will have a system to fight against modern-day scapegoating and other things that profane our world. We can continue to persevere, to strive for a world where all are treated with respect, integrity and dignity, where we can strive to live by the Golden Rule found in next week’s Torah portion “You shall be holy, for I, your God, am holy….Love your neighbor as yourself.”

This Shabbat and weekend, we observe Yom Hashoah v’Hagvurah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, a time to remember the Shoah and the acts of heroism and bravery during those dark times as well. Join us Friday for a program at 4:00 PM, followed by lighting the 6 memorial candles at the beginning of Shabbat Services and remembering the Shoah.

On Sunday afternoon, our member, Dr. Judith Seline Simms-Cendan, will speak at 1:00 PM about reproductive justice puberty and transgender experiences. In this program, we honor everyone for who they are and can learn more about caring for people with integrity.