Acharei Mot-Kedoshim: The Scapegoat
The Sfas Emes says that if a person accepts a difficulty in life with joy and thanks Hashem for it, that difficulty atones for something 5,000 times worse...
by Rabbi Lazer Brody
“Rebbe,” Yankel Kasmacher weeped, “I need your urgent blessing. Both my cows are sick with high fever. These are my cows, my entire livelihood! Without them, how can I make cheese? As it is, we barely get by. My oldest daughter is becoming an old maid – she's already 20 and no one is knocking on our door with marital proposals. After her, there are 3 more girls – two of which are already ripe for marriage. If I can hardly afford my daily bread, how in the world will I come up with dowries and wedding expenses? Rebbe, I beg you, my two cows must live! Please bless my cows, that they should be healthy and continue to give plenty of milk...”
The Rebbe's icy deep blue eyes looked compassionately into Yankel's teary face; he could feel Yankel's pain. The holy Rebbe, a great grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, never got used to seeing people suffer. As such, he suffered with them. The Rebbe's love and empathy for every human being knew no bounds...
Closing his eyes in deep thought, the Rebbe gazed way beyond Yankel's body looking deep into his soul. Yankel was a simple, hard-working Jew, but like everyone else, he had things to correct. No one is perfect. The Rebbe could visualize the dark-side accusing angels who were demanding retribution for Yankel's sins, screaming in the Heavenly Court. They wanted Yankel's blood...
The Rebbe uttered a strained silent prayer with such intent that a vein above his right eye protruded ominously. True, he would have to find a gentle way to prod Yankel into making teshuva. Yankel's impatience and short fuse with his wife was the spiritual cause of his income problems. His inattention to the laws of refraining from gossip and slander were the obstacles that stood in the way of marrying off his daughters. But meanwhile, Yankel was in big trouble, more than he could imagine in his worst nightmare.
“Compassionate Father in Heaven, have mercy on your servant Yankel the son of Yenta...” Tears streamed down the Rebbe's face but momentarily afterward, a wide smile graced his face as if the sun suddenly emerged from dark clouds. The Rebbe's prayers were received at the Heavenly Throne and the harsh decree was mitigated. Yankel would live on and be healthy but both cows would die. If Yankel would accept the lesser decree with faith, while doing his best to do teshuva for his misdeeds, he'd see the gate of blessings open wide for him.
The Rebbe extended his right hand to Yankel. Yankel put his palm in the Rebbe's hand and once more pleaded, “Rebbe, bless me that my cows should live!”
“Yankel,” the Rebbe began cautiously, choosing every word with care, “Hashem will surely help you...”
“No,” Yankel interrupted, “bless the cows, that Hashem should cure them.”
“Dearest Yankel,” the Rebbe continued ever-so-delicately, “the cows don't give you an income – the Creator does. There are blessings beyond your wildest dreams that await you from Above; all I ask is that you do two things: first, do best to respect your wife. Speak to her gently and listen to her patiently. Imagine how unbearable your life would be without her. Make her happy and you shall see, with Hashem's loving help, a big leap in income. Second, do your best to refrain from speaking about other people, let alone saying bad things about them. Use your speech for Torah and prayer, not for gossip. Instead of gossiping, open up a Book of Psalms.”
“But what about the cows?” Yankel insisted.
The Rebbe smiled patiently and repeated his blessing for Yankel's good health, income and favorables matches for his daughters. “Yankel, no matter what happens, I want you to trust in Hashem and thank Him for everything the happens in your life – the obviously favorable and the seemingly otherwise. Very soon, you shall be both a wealthy man and a grandfather, amen.”
Hearing the good tidings, Yankel bellowed a hearty amen, kissed the Rebbe's hand, and left with a song in his heart.
By the time he arrived home, both cows had died.
Yankel's wife couldn't believe his calm reaction. Crises of a much lesser nature would usually set trigger an angry reaction, of which she bore the brunt. “Beloved wife, better the cows than us.”
Astonished, his wife asked, “But what about our income?”
“The Rebbe promised that Hashem will help.”
Less that a day transpired. The Poritz, the Ukranian nobleman who owned the entire village, summoned Yankel. The innkeeper had moved to the city so the inn was now vacant, generating no income. The Poritz trusted Yankel and gave him an open-ended lease at a ridiculously low price. Within months, Yankel quadrupled his income. Within the next two years, he married off all four daughters to wonderful son-in-laws. He had no more time for gossip, because his mouth was thanking Hashem all day long.
"And the goat shall carry upon all their iniquities..." (Leviticus 16:22)
Hashem, in His infinite compassion, gives us the scapegoat to atone for our sins. But with no Holy Temple and no ritual sacrifices, we don't have a scapegoat. Instead, Hashem gives us tribulations: an ache and pain here, a flat tire there. All of our suffering atones for our sins. The holy Sfat Emet of Gur explains that if a person accepts a difficulty in life with joy – and thanks Hashem for it – that difficulty atones for something 5,000 times worse. In other words, if a person loses a $100 bill and thanks Hashem for the loss, it atones for a loss of $500,000! Maybe the accusing angels were demanding that John Doe be punished with a heart attack, subsequently requiring heart surgery and post-op treatment at a cost of $250,000. Instead – since Hashem loves John so much – his wife lost a $50 bill. If he yells at her, he loses the atonement. But, if he accepts the loss with joy and thanks Hashem, he saves himself a heart attack and a quarter of a million-dollar medical bill.
Our little scapegoats in life are reasons to dance, not to complain. With each of life's difficulties, remember how much Hashem loves you and that He is doing everything for the very best.
According to their interpretation of our passage at hand, our sages say that this could not have been an angel who accompanied Shimon Hatzaddik every year in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, since no human or angel was allowed in anywhere near there. They conclude that it therefore was the Divine Presence, bearing witness to the absolute righteousness and holiness of Shimon Hatzaddik, may his holy memory intercede in our behalf, amen!
Rabbi Lazer Brody was born in Washington, D.C. in 1949. After receiving his bachelor's degree in agriculture from the University of Maryland in 1970, he moved to Israel and joined the Israel Defense Forces regular army, and served in one of the elite special-forces units. He is a decorated combat veteran of two wars and numerous of counter-insurgence and anti-terrorist missions on both sides of Israel's borders.
Rabbi Brody is the English-language editor of Breslev Israel's highly popular English-language website at www.breslev.co.il, and the founder and director of Emuna Outreach. Between Breslov Israel and Emuna Outreach, he devotes his time to spreading emuna and particularly the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslev around the globe.
"Lazer Beams," Rabbi Brody's award-winning daily web journal, has been instrumental in helping tens of thousands of people around the globe find joy and fulfillment in their lives.