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    The fast train to nowhere

    The Torah reading for Yom Kippur is probably the origin of the habit of casting blame on others.

    Sins committed in the Israelite community were transferred to a goat which was sent out into the wilderness (Lev.16; Mishnah Yoma 6:4). The high priest drew lots LaShem, “for God” and La’Azazel, “for despatch into the wilderness”.

    What did Azazel mean? Maybe it indicated the goat, maybe the destination in the wilderness.

    If it is a place, the terrain was hard and rocky; in folklore it is a place to which two fallen angels, Uzza and Aza(e)l, were banished because they had besmirched the Creation.

    If the name indicates the goat, it possibly denotes “the one that goes” (in the Septuagint, “the sent-away one”).

    Various Midrashim think it symbolises a power opposed to God. These sources, plus the Dead Sea Scrolls, say that in the end all the negative forces in the world will be overcome and destroyed.

    Maimonides (Moreh Nevuchim 3:46) regards the “scapegoat” procedure as symbolic: in order to eradicate all trace of sin it suggests despatching it to a distance (an example of “put it on a fast train to nowhere”).

    Unfortunately, transferring blame somewhere else is a prevalent habit, “passing the buck”, accusing the other of doing things for which we ourselves are responsible.

    The best approach is the Talmudic story of Elazar ben Durdaya (Avodah Zarah 17a) who after trying the scapegoating approach and blaming heaven and earth, night and day, came to the honest conclusion, “My fate depends on me myself”.

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