In the Yom Kippur service during Temple times, the Kohen would (Lev 16:7-10ff):

And he shall take the two goats, and set them before the LORD at the door of the tent of meeting. And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats: one lot for the LORD, and the other lot for Azazel. And Aaron shall present the goat upon which the lot fell for the LORD, and offer him for a sin-offering. But the goat, on which the lot fell for Azazel, shall be set alive before the LORD, to make atonement over him, to send him away for Azazel into the wilderness. (mechon-mamre.org)

הִקְרִיב אַהֲרֹן אֶת-פַּר הַחַטָּאת, אֲשֶׁר-לוֹ; וְכִפֶּר בַּעֲדוֹ, וּבְעַד בֵּיתוֹ. ז וְלָקַח, אֶת-שְׁנֵי הַשְּׂעִירִם; וְהֶעֱמִיד אֹתָם לִפְנֵי יְהוָה, פֶּתַח אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד. ח וְנָתַן אַהֲרֹן עַל-שְׁנֵי הַשְּׂעִירִם, גֹּרָלוֹת--גּוֹרָל אֶחָד לַיהוָה, וְגוֹרָל אֶחָד לַעֲזָאזֵל. ט וְהִקְרִיב אַהֲרֹן אֶת-הַשָּׂעִיר, אֲשֶׁר עָלָה עָלָיו הַגּוֹרָל לַיהוָה; וְעָשָׂהוּ, חַטָּאת. י וְהַשָּׂעִיר, אֲשֶׁר עָלָה עָלָיו הַגּוֹרָל לַעֲזָאזֵל, יָעֳמַד-חַי לִפְנֵי יְהוָה, לְכַפֵּר עָלָיו--לְשַׁלַּח אֹתוֹ לַעֲזָאזֵל, הַמִּדְבָּרָה.

These two se'irim are treated much the same way that Abraham treated his sons - one (Isaac) was sacrificed, and one (Ishmael) was sent into the midbar.

I know that Rashi (and maybe Talmud?) says that se'ir l'Azazel is thrown off a cliff, but the plain meaning is that it's sent to the midbar. I'm less concerned with the technicalities than the similarities between these two. (Also note that these are the leynings from both days of Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur.)

Why do we mimic Abraham's fathering? Alternatively, why did Abraham perform the Yom Kippur service? What do we learn from this? Are there any sources that make this parallel (aside from my own thoughts and later a painting I saw at the American Visionary Arts Museum in Baltimore)?

  • 1
    This isn't a Jewish source, but a little web sleuthing reconfirms that you aren't the only person to see this parallel. It's observed by Mary Douglas in Leviticus as Literature, page 250.
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented May 18, 2012 at 17:24
  • R' Hirsch talks about the parallel between the Metzora' birds and the Yom Kippur goats. He says that the goats represent our power of resistance, which we can choose to employ against worldly temptations in favor of serving God or, chas Veshalom, the other way. The blood of the goat representing the former is sprinkled in the Holy of Holies, while the other goat is sent away from civilization, to show the fates of those who choose each path. Similarly, the bird is the freest animal, and the Metzora's birds represent our choice to harness freedom in God's service or go wild and selfish with it
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented May 18, 2012 at 17:55
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    @CharlesKoppelman In the piyut of Yom Kippur Mussaf about the avoda uses the phrase קָח מַאֲכֶלֶת חַדָּה וּשְׁחָטו כַּסֵּדֶר. Ma'achelet is a word strongly reminiscent of the Akeida. Just another parallel for you...
    – Double AA
    Commented Jun 1, 2012 at 19:24
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    @CharlesKoppelman I found the painting! It's by a doctor, and it once hung in the AVAM.
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Jul 29, 2015 at 3:53

3 Answers 3


You ask “But surely we can get some meaning from this. That's my hope here - a source or someone's original interpretation.”

Here is an original interpretation without claims to authenticity.

Two modes of dealing with the yetzer hora:

(1) In this existence we are given the yetzer hora and we are to use it to serve HaShem. Devorim 5, 6; Rashi. ““With all your heart”: Love Him with your two inclinations (the good and the evil).

(2) In a future time HKB”H will kill and hence separate us from the yetzer hora. Gemoro Sukah 52a

(1) is represents the way we are to serve HaShem the whole year. (2), I suggest, is the meaning of sending the scape goat to Azozel in the wilderness on Yom Kippur.

Avrohom’s aspiration for Yishmoel was that he should serve HaShem reminiscent of mode (1). "Would that Yishmoel would live before you" (Gen. 17:18) and see Rashi there "in Your fear". Soroh’s prophetic vision was that the continuation of the Jewish people should be through Yitzchok separated from Yishmoel reminiscent of mode (2). Binding Yitzchok to the altar was, I suggest, symbolic of bringing Yitzchok near to the service of HaShem in the same way as an offering brings the giver close to HaShem .

In this way, you could make a case that “the Yom Kippur service seems to reeenact Avrohom’s treatment of his sons.”

  • That's a really good drash. Thanks a lot for thinking on this. Commented Jun 7, 2012 at 16:03

I suggest that the analogy drawn in the painting may be inaccurate. To show this I have taken points from an article on Ishmael from the Jewish Encylopedia and commented on it using the mishnayos in Yoma (references in brackets{}). Encyclopaedia text in italic.

Eldest son of Abraham. (1) Ideally the two goats should be identical {6:1}.

When Sarah saw Ishmael mocking her son Isaac, his brother, younger by fourteen years, she insisted that Abraham cast out Ishmael and his slave-mother. Abraham reluctantly yielded, having provided them with bread and a bottle of water. (2) The Kohen Godol chose which goat to send where by lots and not by human influence. {4:1} (No nourishment was provided for the goat.)

(3) The Kohen Godol confessed the sins of the nation on the goat. The goat was for atonement. {6:2} There was neither confession nor atonement associated with the sending away of Ishmael.

(4) The other goat (the "Isaac" one) was actually slaughtered and its blood sprinkled.{4:3}.

Ishmael was about to die of thirst when an angel showed his mother a well, repeating to her at the same time that Ishmael would become a great nation. (5) As you note in the question the goat was to die. {6:6}. I think we should consider the importance of the Mishnah as well as the Biblical text.

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    First, the idea was mine before I saw the painting. If you want to accuse something of inaccuracy, accuse me. Second, as far as I understand, G-d is the chooser of lots, just as G-d chose to have Sarah petition Abraham (or to respond "shma kolech"). Third, though no children were harmed in the making of Bereshit, you must admit that these rituals are evocative of the story. If there's no source that backs this up, that's fine, it can tumble in my head. But surely we can get some meaning from this. That's my hope here - a source or an someone's original interpretation. Commented Jun 5, 2012 at 15:55

The two goats of Yom Kippur show us that we are not that productive. We cause death and waste alongside our accomplishments. We're not perfect.

Abraham and Sarah were finished with Ishmael. Ishmael's purpose was fulfilled. So they send him to the wilderness. Almost as if Ishmael is considered waste. Abraham and Sarah are throwing Ishmael away - they are done with him.

Look at Leviticus chapter 15, the chapter before Leviticus 16 describing the Yom Kippur ritual. Emissions of semen and menstrual blood go to "waste" and they are considered major pollutants of the Tabernacle. Spilled semen and menstrual blood are life force that go to waste, they aren't used. They are wasted potential. Hence why I'm seeing the goat to Azazel as wasted potential that's sent to the wilderness.

The male genitalia doesn't serve entirely as a tool of insemination (procreation/consecration/Isaac), it also serves as waste disposal (waste/impurity/Ishmael). It crosses anatomical function in a certain way. Insemination and waste disposal become mixed. The distinction of them disappears in a way.

Abraham performs the Yom Kippur ritual with his two sons, after he is the first man to be circumcised in the Torah. Circumcision is the lifting of a veil. The lifting of a veil necessitates closer examination of the organ itself and the implications of it, as you see above.

  • I'm not sure I follow. G-d saves Ishmael and promises to make a great nation from him. You seem to claim he is gargbage. Moreover, how does this relate to sacrificing Isaac/se'ir Lashem? Commented Nov 13, 2022 at 1:42
  • @CharlesKoppelman It's an idea I gathered from the Word Biblical Commentary of Leviticus by John E. Hartley. Sarah sees Ishmael as "waste", technically. Sarah's use for Ishmael is now completed and now he's being thrown out into the wilderness by them. That's like waste. Ishmael doesn't share in the true inheritance of Abraham as you see in Genesis 25:5. Ishmael is not apart of Judaism. Isaac's lineage is, hence as you see in Genesis 21:1. It's not me saying that, it's Sarah saying that.
    – Taylor
    Commented Nov 13, 2022 at 4:27

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