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This week’s Torah portion is Acharei-Kedushim. The first three aliyot (which are in Acharei) are read on Yom Kippur in the morning, and the first part of Kedushim is read (at Ahavas Sholom) on Yom Kippur in the afternoon. The Yom Kippur morning reading contains the episode of the two goats: one goat to God, and the other goat to Azazel. The other goat to Azazel was sent to the wilderness, carrying the inequities from all Israelites, with a designated man.
I read many articles yesterday about Azazel. The scholars are divided about what the word, “Azazel,” means. The majority of scholars interpreted the name Azazel to mean a demon. The minority of scholars interpreted the name Azazel to mean a cliff. The Talmud interprets the name Azazel to mean a cliff.
In the Mishnah (compiled about 189 C.E.) is the description about the dispatching of the goat to the wilderness.
People from among the prominent residents of Jerusalem would escort the one leading the goat until they reached the first booth. Booths were set up along the path to the wilderness to provide the escort a place to rest. There were ten booths from Jerusalem to the cliff, with a distance of ninety ris [421.3–501.3 ft.; I looked it up on Wikipedia] between them. As there are seven and a half ris for each mil [0.598–0.712 mile (in case of Talmud opinion referencing a Roman mile: 0.919 mile; I looked it up on Wikipedia] the total distance was twelve mil. At each and every booth, people there say to him: here is food; here is water, if you need it. And they escort him from booth to booth, except for the last person at the last booth, who does not reach the cliff with him. Rather, he stands from a distance and observes his actions to ensure that he fulfills the mitzvah [the mitzvah is the throwing the goat off the cliff] properly.
The additional description in Mishnah Yoma, compiled between 190-230 C.E., about the dispatching the goat.
What did the one designated to dispatch the goat do there? He divided a strip of crimson [the crimson turned white the goat fell off the cliff] into two parts, half of the strip tied to the rock, and half of it tied between the two horns of the goat. And he pushed the goat backward, and it rolls and descends. And it would not reach halfway down the mountain until it was torn limb from limb. The one designated to dispatch the goat came and sat under the roofing of last booth until it grows dark and only then went home.
The Talmud, compiled between 300-500 C.E., has an explanation about the designated man with the crimson strip:
What did the person designated to dispatch the goat do there? He divided a strip of crimson into two parts, half of the strip tied to the rock, and half of it tied between the two horns of the goat. The Gemara asks: let him tie the whole strip to the rock. The Gemara answers: since it is a mitzvah to push the goat from the cliff. If he tied the whole strip to the rock, perhaps it would turn white quickly, and his mind would be eased with the knowledge that the sins of the Jewish people had been forgiven. He would then not fulfill the mitzvah of pushing the goat off the cliff. He therefore tied part of it between the horns of the goat and looked to see if it became white. Once he was actively involved with the goat, he would remember to push it off the cliff.
Nowadays, the movies have a disclaimer: “no animals were hurt during the filming of this movie.” The Torah does not have disclaimer.