THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED
by Avraham Chaim
In Temple times, a focal point of the Yom Kippur service was the bringing of two identical goats into the sanctuary. Standing before the goats, the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) would reach into a golden lottery box and select two lots.
In Temple times, a focal point of the Yom Kippur service was the bringing of two identical goats into the sanctuary. Standing before the goats, the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) would reach into a golden lottery box and select two lots. On one was inscribed the words "for G-d", on the other "for the cliff". He would place the lot in his right hand upon the goat to his right, and the lot in his left hand upon the goat to his left. The one who ended up "for G-d" would be offered as a sacrifice to Hashem in the Temple, while the other would be taken out to a cliff and tossed down to its death (Talmud Tractate Yoma 4:1).
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, the leader of 19th century German Jewry, uses this service to emphasize an important concept in living a proper Jewish life. Let us imagine that the goat labeled "to the cliff" was able to think like a human being. He probably would feel quite content with his apparent situation. He would watch his friend being led to the Temple, where he would soon be slaughtered. "Look at the two paths that my friend and I are about to follow. He will be murdered on the altar, while I will merit the gift of life!"
As they would lead him to the mountains outside of Jerusalem, he would rejoice at his chance to leave behind the crowded city and go out into the open wilderness. He would walk with his head held high, gazing behind him towards the city where his poor comrade had by now surely left this world.
Of course, what this goat does not realize is that he is about to be pushed off the cliff to fall before the sharp stones below, tear his limbs, and rip his flesh. If the goat would know this, he would understandably be less overjoyed and would look with envy at his friend who merited to be sacrificed to Hashem on the holy altar and who would be used in the special service of the day.
This image can be translated into human life. Two paths are set before us, and unlike the goat we are given the chance to choose between them. One will lead us to spiritual growth and closeness to Hashem; the other to spiritual emptiness and fleeting pleasures with nothing gained for eternity whatsoever. The first path demands sacrifice every step of the way, and at times it may appear that the second path is the more sensible one. But every sacrifice required by the first path becomes worthwhile when we look at the big picture and realize what lies at the end of the path - a chance to dwell in the house of Hashem.
Avraham Chaim Feldman, a native Atlantan, is a senior at the Ner Israel High School in Baltimore.
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