April 17, 2013
Acharei Mot: The Ox and the Goat
There are many unique aspects to the Temple service on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. One special feature of Yom Kippur concerns the chatat sin-offerings. On all other holidays, a single sin- offering was brought, from a goat. On Yom Kippur, however, there were two sin-offerings: an ox and a goat.
What is the significance of these two animals, the ox and the goat?
Forgiveness for All Actions
The ox is a symbol of great strength. Oxen were traditionally used for construction and cultivating land. The ox’s strength was harnessed to till the earth, to transport goods, and other constructive purposes.
The goat is also a symbol of power — but of a corrosive, destructive nature. The Hebrew word for goat (sa’ir) means to storm and rage. The foraging goat devours the very roots of the plants. Overgrazing by goats leads to land-erosion and destruction of pasture.
Both of these forms of power — constructive and destructive — may be used for positive goals, and both may be utilized for evil purposes. Each has its proper place and time. We use constructive forces to build and advance, and we need destructive forces when dismantling existing structures in order to rebuild and improve. Both types of forces, however, may be abused, causing much sorrow and grief.
The most common need for atonement is when we accidentally hurt or damage. For this reason, the standard chatat offering is the goat, a symbol of blight and destruction.
On Yom Kippur, however, we seek forgiveness for the misuse of all forms of power. Therefore, we offer a second chatat from an ox, the classic beast of labor. With this offering, we express our regret if, inadvertently, our constructive deeds may have been inappropriate or harmful.
(Adapted from Olat Re’iyah, vol. I, p. 167)
Kedoshim: Holiness in Physical Pleasure
“For three years the fruit shall be ‘Orlah,’ and may not be eaten. In the fourth year, all of the fruit shall be holy, for praising God.” (Lev. 19:23-4)
The Talmud in Berachot 35a quotes this verse as the source for reciting a brachah (blessing) over food. “‘Holy, for praising God’ — this teaches that (fruit and other foods) require a blessing before and after eating.”
The key word, Rav Kook noted, is kodesh — holiness. Even when we eat, even when we partake of worldly pleasures, we should be able to find holiness.
Holiness from physical pleasure? How is this possible?
Opportunity for Holiness
What is a brachah? When we recite a blessing, we are expressing our awareness of God as the ultimate source for this pleasure. But there is an enjoyment greater than the sensory pleasure that comes from eating food. Eating entitles us to recite a blessing and thus connect with our Creator. We experience an inner joy when we realize that every form of physical pleasure was created with the opportunity to refine the spirit and uplift the soul.
A brachah is not just our gratitude for the physical pleasure we are about to enjoy. Each blessing should make us aware of a far greater kindness of God: that even material pleasures can be a source of spirituality and holiness. Our fruit thus becomes “holy, for praising God.”
(adapted from Ein Eyah vol. II, p. 171)