“But the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel” (Vayikra 6:10).
During the Yom Kippur service, a goat is sent to “Azazel,” to “carry” our sins and to be thrown off the mountain. The Pirkey DeRebbe Eliezer says that this sacrifice is going to the Satan/Yetzer Horah himself.
I’ll be honest, I heard this years ago, and could never wrap my head around it. We don’t go offering sacrifices to the Yetzer Horah. So, how could something like this be?
I recently heard a talk from Rav Yitzchok Berkowitz, which actually touched on this issue.
Yom Kippur is a time, as we know, that we ask for forgiveness for all of our sins. But what does that mean? Do we need to sit down and think of all the sins that we did over the past year? No.
But, we do need to go over some of them and see what the root of the sins were.
For example, if somebody over the past year was doing things on Shabbos which were not allowed, and over the course of the year, he heard from here and there, what he was doing was forbidden on Shabbos.
Does he need to do tshuva for each and every sin? No! But he DOES need to do tshuva for not knowing or at least attempting to know the halachos of Shabbos. The action of the sin is not the sin itself. The sin itself is what is underneath—the cause of the action. When we sin, okay, we sin. That’s fine. But what CAUSED the sin to occur?
How do we find our own personal, spiritual, weak spots? Only by analyzing our sins (the actions) and learning what the root cause is. THEN, by doing tshuva on the root cause, those actions that were originally sins are turned to mitzvos.
Why? By using those sins, you were able to see a blemish in yourself, which in turn caused you to fix said blemish. Therefore, those sins actually helped you improve yourself! Hence, they are now regarded as "credit points"!
Now, back to our original question: Why are we sending a sacrifice to Azazel?
Rav Berkowitz explains that this is a "thank you card" to the Yetzer Horah. We actually thank him for "giving us" the opportunity to sin. That sin, in turn, was used to analyze ourselves, and repair our own blemishes. So, thanks to the Yetzer Horah we were able to become better Jews.
With that, I wish you all a great Shabbos and a successful Yom Kippur!