Yom Kippur - how do we achieve atonement through the sair le'azazel?

The Ramban in Parshas Acharei Mos quotes the following medrashim regarding the sair le’azazel:
אמרו בבראשית רבה (סה י) ונשא השעיר עליו זה עשו שנאמר (בראשית כז יא) הן עשו אחי איש שעיר את כל עונותם עונות תם שנאמר ויעקב איש תם (שם כה כז) ומפורש מזה בפרקי רבי אליעזר הגדול (פרק מו) לפיכך היו נותנין לו לסמאל שוחד ביום הכפורים שלא לבטל את קרבנם...ראה סמאל שלא נמצא בהם חטא ביום הכפורים אמר לפני הקב"ה רבון כל העולמים יש לך עם אחד בארץ כמלאכי השרת שבשמים מה מלאכי השרת יחפי רגל כך הן ישראל יחפי רגל ביום הכפורים מה מלאכי השרת אין בהם אכילה ושתיה כך ישראל אין בהם אכילה ושתיה ביום הכפורים מה מלאכי השרת אין להם קפיצה כך ישראל עומדין על רגליהם ביום הכפורים מה מלאכי השרת שלום מתווך ביניהם כך הן ישראל שלום מתווך ביניהם ביום הכפורים מה מלאכי השרת נקיים מכל חטא כך הן ישראל נקיים מכל חטא ביום הכפורים והקדוש ברוך הוא שומע עדותן של ישראל מן הקטיגור שלהם ומכפר על המזבח ועל המקדש ועל הכהנים ועל כל עם הקהל שנאמר (פסוק לג) וכפר את מקדש הקדש וגו'

“They said in Bereishis Rabbah – ‘ונשא השעיר עליו– the goat should carry their aveiros – this refers to Esav as it says ‘עשו אחי איש שעיר– behold my brother Esav is an ish sair (a hairy man). ‘את כל עונותם– all their aveiros – do not read ‘עונותם’but rather ‘עונות תם’ – the aveiros of the tam – Yaakov – as the passuk says ‘ויעקב איש תם’.

The medrash says in Prikei de’Rebbi Eliezer: They used to give bribery to Samoel on Yom Kippur so that he should not be mevatel their korbon…Samael saw that there was no chet in them on Yom Kippur, he said before Hashem, ‘Master of the Universe, you have one people in the world like malachim, just as the malachim do not wear shoes so too the benei yisroel do not wear shoes on Yom Kippur, just as the malachim do not eat and drink so too the benei yisroel do not eat and drink on Yom Kippur, just as the malachim do not sit so too the benei yisroel do not sit on Yom Kippur, just as the malachim have peace between them so too do the benei yisroel have peace between them on Yom Kippur, just as the malachim are clean from all chet so too the benei yisroel are clean from all chet on Yom Kippur. When Hashem hears the testimony in favour of the benei yisroel from their accuser He atones for the mizbeach and for the beis hamikdosh and for the cohanim and for all the people as the passuk says ‘וכפר את מקדש הקדש וגו'’.”

The medrashim are difficult to understand for a number of reasons:
-          How does the sair carry the aveiros of benei yisroel to the midbar?
-          Surely in order to be absolved of aveiros you have to do teshuvah on each aveiroh? How is it possible to have a general kaparah for all aveiros together?
-          How can we simply transfer our aveiros to Esav?

Makas bechoros
We say in the hagadah:
ויוציאנו ה' ממצרים, לא על ידי מלאך ולא על ידי שרף ולא על ידי שליח, אלא הקב"ה בכבודו ובעצמו. שנאמר: "ועברתי בארץ מצרים בלילה הזה, והכיתי כל בכור בארץ מצרים מאדם עד בהמה. ובכל אלוהי מצרים אעשה שפטים, אני ה'."
“Hashem brought us out of Mitzraim, not through a malach and not through a saraf and not through an emissary rather Hashem Himself in his Honour brought us out as it says ‘ועברתי בארץ מצרים בלילה הזה, והכיתי כל בכור בארץ מצרים מאדם עד בהמה. ובכל אלוהי מצרים אעשה שפטים, אני ה' – ‘I will pass through Mitzraim on this night and I will smite every firstborn in the land of Mitzraim from man to beast and I will execute judgement against all the gods of Mitzraim – I am Hashem.”

The Hagaddah equates the geulah – ‘ויוציאנו ה' ממצרים’, to makkas bechoros – ‘שנאמר... והכיתי כל בכור’. The proof that Hashem Himself brought us out is that Hashem smote the first-born. Why are these synonymous?

The Geulah
When slaves are enslaved unjustly, all of the benefits of their slavery really belong to the slaves. Mitzraim was a great and respectable empire, however their strength was stolen from the benei yisroel who they forced to build their cities.

The hagadah says that Hashem brought us out ‘be’moroh godol – zu giluy shechinah’ - the shechinah was revealed at midnight. When the shechinah was revealed the real status of both the mitzrim and the benei yisroel became apparent. Whereas the benei yisroel had previously appeared to be slaves, it was now apparent that they were upstanding people. Whereas the mitzrim had previously appeared as noblemen, it now became appparent that they had nothing holding them up other than the avodas perech of the benei yisroel. The giluy ha’shechinah affected the bechorim because they represented the stature of the mitzrim.

The geulah and makkas bechoros were two sides of the same coin - the giluy ha’shechinah reverted both parties to their true identity. Subsequently the mitzrim crumbled and the benei yisroel walked off as benei chorin.

The yezter hara
The mishna in pirkei avos (perek 6) says:
והלוחות מעשה אלוקים המה והמכתב מכתב אלוקים הוא חרות על הלוחות אל תקרא חרות אלא חירות שאין לך בן חורין אלא מי שעוסק בתלמוד תורה
The passuk says that the writing on the aseres hadibros was  ‘חרות על הלוחות. Instead of reading חרות (engraved) you can read חירות (freedom) because ‘אין לך בן חורין אלא מי שעוסק בתלמוד תורה’ – the only free person is one who learns Torah.

Someone who keeps the Torah is free, however through aveiros a person becomes subservient to the yetzer hara. People do aveiros because they think at the time that by doing so they will gain an advantage.

The sair hamishtaleach represents the disavowment of the illusory gain of aveiros by the benei yisroel. It is sent to an uninhabited midbar to show that it is not part of the yishuv and it is smashed to show that it is worthless. By disowning the apparent advantage that the yetzer hara offers, the benei yisroel are entirely freed from the subjugation to the yetzer hara.

When a swimmer comes out of the water, all of the water comes off them. They do not need to remove each drop of water individually. Similarly, when the benei yisroel disavow the yetzer hara, aveiros become irrelevant to them. The testimony of the satan is that the benei yisroel are are not interested in him and are therefore like malachim. Thus Hashem removes any impression from aveiros they may have done during the year and is mechaper on the mizbeach, on the mikdash, on the cohanim and on am yisroel.


  1. אני לא מבינה-מי זה סטן בדיוק,זה יצר הרע שלנות ו שזה כמו בתרבוית אחרות-מלאך שנפל?

  2. Hi,

    I think that there are 2 ways you can understand the satan, either as a malach of Hashem whose purpose it is to challenge people so that they can be rewarded for overcoming temptation or you can understand the satan as a human weakness. Either way it is not a malach shenaphal as in other cultures. We do not beleive in shtei reshuyos - two powers - good and bad. There is a medrash (see yalkut meam loez at the end of parshat bereishis) that the power of women's coloured clothing to attract men is from the malachim shenaphlu but this is allegorical as are many other references to dialogs with the satan in medrash and gemara



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