Defeating Self-Defeat

Why do people constantly sabotage themselves?
How does the scapegoat atone for the sins of Uza and Azael?

And Ahron [the Kohen Gadol-high priest] should place two lots on the two goats; one [marked] for HaShem and the other [marked] for Azazel

— Vayikra 16:8

And Ahron should press his two hands on the live goats head and confess all the sins of the Bnei Yisrael-Jewish people; on it, rebellious acts and unintentional offenses.  When, by doing so, he has placed them [all of these sins] on the goats head, he should send it into the desert with a man of the hour.

— Ibid 16:21

What would he [the man of the hour] do? He would take a crimson ribbon and tear it in two.  Half was tied to a sharp boulder while the other half was tied between the goat’s two horns.  He then pushed the goat backwards [over the peak] and it would roll down the mountain.  The goat was ripped limb from limb before it got halfway down the craggy mountain.

— Mishnah Yoma 6:6

The Rabbis taught: [why] “Azazel”?  That it should be strong and hard … the academy of Rabbi Yishmael taught [why] “Azazel”? for it atones for the deeds of Uza and Azael [two fallen angels].

—Yoma 67B

Rami bar Chama taught: the numerical values of the word Hasoton-the Satan; is 364. This implies that for 364 days of the year he has authorization to prosecute but that on [one of the year’s 365 days] Yom Kippur … he does not.

—Yoma 20A

Reish Lakish taught: The Satan-the prosecuting attorney on High; the Yetzer Hara-the inclination to evil; and the Malach Hamaves-the Angel of Death; are one and the same entity.

—Bava Basra 16A

It is odd and almost counterintuitive that man, allegedly the most highly evolved of all organisms, should have the weakest of all survival instincts.  From the cradle to the grave humans are capable of reckless behaviors that endanger lives and limbs.  Humanities self-destructive tendencies manifest themselves in a wide variety of ways.  From subconscious acts of self-sabotaging predicated on the excessive fear of failure, to cuttings and other forms of self-inflicted mutilation; from anorexia to obsessive overeating; from rampant consumerism that spells ecological disaster to nuclear fueled geopolitics that continue to push the envelope towards assured mutual destruction.

The most striking expression of the inclination to self-destruct is found in individuals who commit suicide including the most faddish and trendy iterations of murdering oneself including physician-assisted suicide, cop-assisted suicide and murder-suicides characteristic of both domestic violence and terrorist bombings. All in all both individual humans and humanity as a whole seem hell-bent on self-destruction.

Whence this uniquely human drive to destroy ourselves?

The centerpiece avodah –Divine service; of Yom Kippur was the lottery of the two goats; one goat dedicated to HaShem whose blood was sprinkled in the inner sanctum while the other goat was designated as the sair laAzazel-the goat “dedicated” to Azazel; and was pushed off of a jagged cliff in the desert wilderness.  In the popular vernacular the goat that “lost” the lottery is commonly known as the scapegoat.  Many a proverbial quill has been broken in the commentaries attempts to explain such a puzzling avodah, especially on the holiest day of the year. The Ramban characterizes it as a bribe to the sitra achara-“the ‘other’ [dark] side”; while the Lubliner Kohen does not mince words and calls it an act of idolatrous worship that is, nevertheless, the Will of HaShem.

The Bais Yaakov, the second Izhbitzer Rebbe, offers a novel approach that recasts the sair laAzazel as the antidote for the human drive for self-destruction. But before presenting it I must introduce the foundation to unlocking the mystery of human self-destructiveness upon which the Bais Yaakov’s approach is based. It is a teaching found in the text and a hagahah-margin gloss; in Rav Chaim Volozhiners Nefesh Hachaim (pp.21, 23).

In the Genesis narrative the preamble to the creation of man are the words “Naaseh adam– let us make man” (Bereishis 1:26).  Rav Chaim Volozhiner explains the plural form to mean that all that had preceded the creation of man was asked for input.  Even myriad unseen worlds and the hosts of angels through whom HaShems Will emanates through a process metaphorically described as hishtalshelus-chain-linking; contribute something of their essences to the being known as man.  Man comprises within his being elements of the celestial bodies, the outer reaches of space and the unfathomed depths of the oceans.  Man is part stone, part plant and part animal; he is a granite block or a grain of sand; a hyssop or a towering cedar, an amoeba, an eagle or a giant white shark. But, more importantly, the human soul incorporates within itself the souls of all these creature of HaShem; from the exalted archangel Gabriel to the humble angel assigned to motivate a single blade of grass to grow.

There is one possible exception, i.e. a spiritual force that was not built-in to the very fiber of man at the moment of creation. But even that was integrated into man soon thereafter.

The angel/ creature whose role it is to tempt man to sin was clarified and external prior to Adam and Chava’s original sin.  It was then known as the nachash hakadmoni-the primordial serpent. Subsequently, it became internalized such that all humans since Adam and Chava’s sin (including Adam and Chava) confuse the inclination to do evil with their own innermost desires.

The Midrash interprets the words Naaseh adam to mean that HaShem extended an invitation to the ministering angels to voice their opinions as to whether or not man deserves the right to be created and exist.  Parties were formed and some angels were in favor while others were opposed. (Bereishis Rabbah 8:5). Citing the Zohar (Zohar Bereishis page 28B) the Bais Yaakov identifies Uza and Azael as among the angels who most adamantly opposed the creation of man.

As such it follows that while other yearnings to oppose HaShem (AKA evils) may not have been internalized by man until after eating from “the tree of union of good and evil”, the most comprehensive evil i.e. the all-encompassing opposition to the essential Divine Will of creating and maintaining human beings, has always been present within man. Man is self-destructive, self-sabotaging and suicidal because the angelic naysayers who opposed mans very creation were also invited to contribute their input.  If courageous man is accessing his inner Gabriel, if growth-oriented man is accessing his inner plant guardian-angel then suicidal man is accessing his inner Uza and Azael.  Their party may have lost the election but their platform has never changed. Pre-creation and post-creation the naysayers are still shouting “ahl yivra-do NOT create”; that man has no right to exist.

When the Kohen Gadol presses his two hands on the live goats head and confesses all the sins of the Bnei Yisrael on it; he is performing more than an act of transference. It is an act of catharsis, of heaving evil out of the system. He is clarifying and distilling.  For in the cosmic scheme of things it is not man whose existence is illegitimate but evil’s. So long as good and evil are conflated, evil is animated by its attachment to the very source of life.  But once all of the evil is purged from Bnei Yisrael “sent away”, i.e. made separate and distinct by dispatching it to the wilderness, it disintegrates, it is “ripped limb-from-limb.”  How does the Sair laAzazel absolve the deeds of Uza and Azael?  It does so by destroying all clarified, distinct evil — including the most all-inclusive one; the drive for human nonexistence.

Yom Kippur is not merely the one day of the year when the Soton has lost all authority; the facets of the same being known as the Yetzer Hara and Malach Hamaves have been decommissioned as well.  In particular, the most malevolent Malach Hamaves of all, the internal one inclining us towards suicide rather than homicide, is purged and is, itself, destroyed.

~adapted from

Bais Yaakov Erev Yom Kippur D”H v’hinai
Nefesh Hacahim gate 1:5 particularly in D”H aval
Hagahah ibid D”H v’zeh and D”H v’hainyan
Tzidkas Hatzadik 40

3 comments on “Defeating Self-Defeat

  1. Yes, those were Thypos (TM)

    Thought Typos.

    As for the second Kushye, I wasn’t asking on you; I was wondering if you have a way to explain those Chazals.

  2. here are my nitpicks:


    unless of course these are Freudian -typos ;-)

    Your second nitpick seems to be a kushya on the last two Chazals quoted … having nothing to do with either the Izhbitzer oeuvre or my adaptation.

    Man isn’t always necessarily trying to self-destruct; rather he takes risks or decides that pleasures out-way other factors.

    I beg to differ. Every surrender to sin is self-destructive. I did not provide a link to it but take a look at Avos d’Rebbe Nosson 17:3 and you will see the source for my lead rhetorical question, mocking the theory of evolution (survival of the fittest).

    There it says clearly that the same force that drives people (including babies) to destroy their temporal lives (i.e. destructive suicidal tendencies) from birth is the one that , after achieving maturity drives people to destroy their eternity … to wit, the Yetzer Hara.

    heres a link for your convenience:

    start from top line .. Rebee Reuven

  3. I appreciate how you continuously post fascinating intellectual incites, always with a timely message.

    One nitpick is that Man isn’t always necessarily trying to self-destruct; rather he takes risks or decides that pleasures out-way other factors.

    A second nitpick is if the Satan and MH are one and the same, and they are banished for YK, how is it that people die on YK? Neshika from HKBH?

    Keep up the beautiful prose.


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