Author’s Note: The following piece was posted on September 26, 2012 at PJ Media. It was about the Biblical origins of Yom Kippur, the holy Jewish Day of Atonement. Now, three years later and with Yom Kippur beginning today at sundown I was feeling called to re-post this piece for RedState readers but with a new personal addendum at the end.
While chatting with a close friend who is currently on location filming a mega-budget Hollywood movie, he mentioned, as a “good Jew,” he was planning on attending a Yom Kippur service today in a beautiful historic temple.
Yom Kippur, for those who are unfamiliar, is the Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.
Playfully, I asked him if the rabbi would let loose a scapegoat in the temple, but my friend did not understand why I had even asked such a question.
That is when I told him about the Yom Kippur scapegoat, an integral part of the Old Testament account of The Day of Atonement.
Since my friend was unfamiliar with the Yom Kippur scapegoat I thought perhaps others might be as well. Therefore, if you plan on attending temple today and are familiar with this Jewish Bible story, you are dismissed. If not, keep reading because this ancient tale is not only interesting, but the derivation of the word “scapegoat” arises from it.
Now class, please open your Bibles to Leviticus, the third book of the Old Testament, after Genesis and Exodus. Those first three books, along with the next two, Numbers and Deuteronomy comprise what is known as The Torah.
Leviticus chapter 16 is aptly named The Day of Atonement. It is a short chapter with only 34 verses which I recommend reading if this piece piques your interest.
Here is the basic story.
While the Children of Israel were wandering in the desert during their 40 year odyssey between leaving Egypt and entering the Holy Land of Israel, God commanded Moses to make an annual atonement for their “uncleanness and rebellion” and “whatever their sins had been.” God then directed Moses to have his brother Aaron, the High Priest, obtain two goats for an atonement ceremony.
The first goat was designated as a “sin offering” and slaughtered for his blood. Then, the goat’s blood was to be sprinkled around the “Most Holy Place” which was inside the “Tent of Meeting” that housed the Ark of the Covenant.
Now, the second goat fared slightly better for it was to be the “goat of removal.” In Hebrew, it was known as the Azazel goat, and later translated to mean scapegoat in the English Bible’s King James Version.
Rather than my paraphrasing the fate of the second goat, I will defer to GOD as HE gives Moses specific instructions for brother Aaron to carry out in Leviticus 16: 21- 22. The Bible translation is from the popular New International Version.
He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites –all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task. The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place, and the man shall release it in the desert.
There you have it, the scapegoat as the central figure of Yom Kippur.
The scapegoat’s original meaning was escape goat because unlike the first goat, the second was allowed to escape with its life, though heavily laden with the collective sin of the Israelites.
As you know, the modern meaning of scapegoat is some entity or person who is unfairly blamed or punished for the actions of others, but I would wager that most people are unaware this term is from the Old Testament.
So for those of the Jewish faith attending temple today, you might pause to remember that little goat, released into the desert bearing the sin burden of all your ancient relatives.
Furthermore, click here if you are interested in knowing the Biblical origin of other common phrases like Good Samaritan, a drop in the bucket, a broken heart, a peace offering, or a sign of the times, to only name a few.
The Bible is still the best-selling book of all time and continues to be an amazing resource for faith, history, morality and language.
So ended my original piece from 2012 and here is the aforementioned addendum.
Having been raised as a “twice a year” secular Jew, my childhood and teenage memories of Yom Kippur were less about forgiveness of sins and more what was happening as a result of the holiday.
There are good memories like having the day off from school and my Mother and I wearing our brand-new stylish fall outfits to temple. Then there was the annual conflict between my parents who hardly ever argued. My non-religious Jewish father would bitterly complain about the excessive cost of the “high-holiday tickets” that were required if one was to attend both the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur temple services. I distinctly remember him telling my mother that the services were nothing more than an expensive fashion show. Exasperated, mother insisted that we must attend or “people would talk.”
Having my sins forgiven at the start of the Jewish New Year was what I was told Yom Kippur was about. However I soon realized that showing up and being apart of the “fashion show” that my father railed about was equally important but devoid of spiritual meaning.
Now I view Yom Kippur through an entirely different lens because I have been a Messianic Jew and a regular churchgoer for over four decades.
After much Old and New Testament Bible study it is obvious to me that centuries later, Jesus (Hebrew name Yeshua) was substituted in place of the slaughtered goat and his blood was sacrificed for our sins.
Fortunately, for believers in Yeshua the Jewish Messiah, every day is Yom Kippur. Every day I can receive forgiveness for my sins without having to buy a high-priced temple ticket and a new dress for I know that Jesus lives and acts as my scapegoat!