Originally, the Canaanite people, and perhaps the Israelites, too, had a scapegoat ritual in which an animal was sent to a demon, or God called Azazel. In time, the practice evolved, or was rejected by Divine commandment in favor of a ritual in which a goat was sent to a cliff or mountain called Azazel. What the modified ritual meant to those who performed it is unknown, but later the Rabbis speculated that some subordinate power or fallen angle was being appeased.
Rabbi Solivetchik (or "JB" to Holy Hockers who live in Brooklyn) had an especially precious understanding of the ritual which I will explain tomorrow.
- A tall mountain that has sharp peaks (Yoma 67b; Rashi)
- A combination of the names Uza and Azo'eil, two angels who left the upper realms and descended to earth (Breishis 6:2) They behaved immorally. The scapegoat brings atonement for immorality. (Yoma 67b)
- A place where goats pasture (Rashbam) "Perhaps it is called Azazel because it is a combination of "eiz," a goat, and "ozal," it has gone."
- The strong place of Keil, "izuz Keil" (Ibn Ezra)
- The name of a mountain that is near Har Sinai (Another opinion mentioned by Ibn Ezra) .
- "I will expose part of its secret to you through a hint. When you are 33 you will understand it." (Ibn Ezra) There are at least three ways to understand this strange, secretive remark. I'll try to get to it in the next post.
- The name of a mountain (Rabbi Saadioh Gaon)
- A hard place, as in the word "izuz" (Thilim 24:8) (Ramban)
- Sharp, condemning sins go away. (Footnote in Toras Chaim Chumash)
- The name of a prosecuting angel. "Hashem sent him down to earth and he himself sinned. This sealed the mouth of this prosecuting angel."(Imrei Noam)
- A name for the powers of evil (Ohr Hachaim Hakodosh)
- A name for the forces of nature (Rabbi S.R. Hirsch)