Leviticus 16 is the section of the Torah read every Yom Kippur. It’s not the most exciting portion, and it’s not one that normally gets under my skin like all the infertility talk on Rosh HaShanah. (That service is like navigating a land mine. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten through it without crying at some point.) Leviticus 16 is the story of Aaron and the two goats.
Two goats are chosen from the herd. They must be exactly alike, practically indistinguishable. For instance, you cannot take one healthy goat and one unhealthy goat, or one fat goat and one thin goat, or one unblemished goat and one blemished goat. Exactly alike.
One goat gets sacrificed as an offering, and there are strict rules for how to use the goat’s blood.
The other goat has a very different fate. It is told all the wrongdoings of the community and then sent away to wander the desert, far away from the people whose sins he is forced to figuratively carry on his little goat shoulders. (Do goats have shoulders?) He is — as you probably guessed — the scapegoat, forced to own everyone else’s terrible decision.
But here’s the thing: Those two goats are exactly alike. Their fate is determined by a lottery. Each has an equal chance of being driven out of the community. And, frankly, as much as it would suck to wander around the desert without water and likely die in the wild, it would suck more to definitely be killed as part of a goat sacrifice. In one situation, you have a fighting chance for your life, and in the other, you don’t. And, let’s all be honest, as we read this, we think these outdated ideas are a little odd, right?
I guess this Torah portion got under my skin because we are in an election season where the scapegoats are being named, left and right. Whole genders, nationalities, religions, sexual orientations, and physical situations have been blamed for amorphous issues such as unemployment, terrorism, and crime. The people in those scapegoat groups are going to have their lives as they know it obliterated, more akin to the sacrificial goat than the wandering one. If Trump comes into power, families might be separated, marriages might be taken away, more violence might errupt.
But here’s the thing that goes back to those goats. With the goats, everything was equal. Each had a chance to have to carry the burden of the community. But there is a lot of inequality with the groups targeted as scapegoats this election. There is a lot of privilege being abused in the name of bettering the country.
It is so easy to blame other people for your problems. It is so much harder to sit with your own role in creating that problem or admit that there are problems without clear-cut solutions. I am terrified when I hear Trump speak. When I think about the direction his rhetoric is taking the country.
This country needs fewer scapegoats and more people willing to work together to take care of the herd.