Acharei Mot: Cleansing Past Misdeeds

April 11, 2014

By Rabbi Mark Borovitz

My brother Neal called me this morning and suggested I write about a character from this week's Torah Portion. It is the “Ish Ati,” the man who takes the goat for Azazel out to the wilderness. Since I didn't write about it in my weekly Torah Drash, I thought I would write about it here.

Who is this guy? We don't know. He could be a Levite and he could be your average person. I believe he is a Levite. The reason I believe this is because the Levites were the people who cleaned up things for the Kohanim/Priests in the Temple of old and this was/is surely a clean up job.

The goat for Azazel is the symbolic representative of all of our errors. The High Priest lays all of the “sins” of the people on the head of the goat and the goat is sent off to the wilderness. This is to let people know that they can be clean of their errors and no one has to carry the past into the present or the future. Yet, what is the experience of the man who takes the goat to the wilderness?

I think about this a lot. As a Rabbi and Spiritual Counselor/guide I deal with people's errors each day. Taking these errors on so as to take them away from the people I have the honor to guide/counsel takes a tremendous toll on me.

The Ish Ati has to lead the goat and some of the schmutz rubs off on him, it has to. Yet, he does his job with honor and diligence. He knows how important his work is, he knows that if the goat isn’t released far enough into the wilderness to wander far away from the people, the negativity returns and people will never escape the past and keep repeating these errors and sink under the weight of prior misdeeds. I would suggest his job is so very important, that without his attention to detail, an entire community will sink. He is so dedicated to the redemption of his community that he is willing to go on a dangerous trek to the wilderness so everyone can live well.

Even though we don't send goats off to the wilderness today, there are many people who are designated as Ish Ati. They are the therapists, Priests, Ministers, Rabbis, Sponsors, Psychiatrists, Counselors, etc. who deal with people who are searching for redemption. What our Torah teaches us is that we all need help in ridding ourselves of shame and guilt. We all need to give our shame and guilt to another so they can send these two killers off to the wilderness.

I am sad to say that we may not have enough people who are Ish Ati. I am also saddened by the fact that many of us are too arrogant to make use of the Ish Ati available for/to us. We are going into the Season of Liberation/Freedom. Are you ready to leave the Mitzrayim/Narrow Place of Shame and Guilt? Will you look at yourself and see how Malignant Shame has kept you from living a full life? Will you go to your Rabbi/Counselor/Therapist/Minister/Priest/Sponsor and allow them to be your Ish Ati?

I am an Ish Ati and I am Addicted to Redemption, therefore, anyone who wants to leave the Slavery of Shame and Guilt, anyone who wants to be brought out from the burdens of past misdeeds waying them down, anyone who is willing to be saved from their own inner worthlessness, anyone who wants to find their true place in the world—I and my colleagues at Beit T’Shuvah and at Temples, Mosques, Churches, Meetings, Offices everywhere are saying Hineni!! Here I Am!! Please use us; being Ish Ati is our calling and we both live better when you and we are Living and Engaged in being Addicted to Redemption! Happy Passover.

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