by Rabbi David H. Auerbach
A group of Nazis surrounded an elderly Berlin Jew and demanded of him:  "Tell us, Jew, who started the war?"  The little Jew was no fool.  "The Jews, " he said and then added, "And the bicycle riders."  The Nazis were puzzled.  "Why the bicycle rider?"  They asked.  "Why the Jews?" answered the little old man.

The nations of the world are now ganging up on Israel and demanding:  "Tell us, Israel, who caused all the deaths and violence in the Middle East?"  The representative of Israel answers:  "Israel and of course the Palestinians."  The nations of the world are genuinely perplexed:  "Why do you say the Palestinians?  They are only trying to liberate their occupied land."  Israel answers:  "Why Israel who only wants to live in peace?"

When the Temple stood in Jerusalem and an elaborate ritual was performed on Yom Kippur.  Two goats were selected, and by casting lots, one goat was designated for G-d and offered us a sin offering.  The second goat was to remain alive.  On this goat the High Priest symbolically placed the sins of the whole household of Israel and sent the goat into the wilderness. 

The purpose of the ritual was to dramatize the need for making a fresh start by banishing our sins.  In Hebrew the goat destined to be sent away is described by the obscure term Azazel.  Some English translations have used the word scapegoat to translate Azazel.
The meaning is the goat that escaped into the wilderness, the goat that is driven away.

Because symbolically the sins of the people were transfered to the goat to be sent into the wilderness, the word scapegoat has come to mean "A person or group or thing upon whom the blame for the mistakes or crimes of others have been thrust."

Now if we were looking for a definition of the Jewish people -- or rather I should say how the Jewish people have been historically perceived in the minds of others -- one could not find a better description.  Since the first century of the common era, we Jews have been blamed at one time or another for all the ills that have existed in the world -- from the Black Death that ravaged Europe during the Middle Ages to economic ills to the losses in war.

The sad truth is that nothing has changed.  Israel is seen in most of the world as the cause of the Palestinian problem and Jewish institutions everywhere in the world -- including Key West -- are at risk.  Israel is being made the scapegoat once again.

There is a real danger in the concept of the scapegoat.  As long as a scapegoat is blamed, as long as the real cause of violence and suicide bombings are not acknowledged, no progress can be made to end the violence and achieve peace.  Until there is a recogni-tion that there could have been peace in the Middle East 55 years ago had it not been for Arab and Palestinian enmity and intransi-gence, there will never be a solution.  As long as the world simply blames the Jews and lets Arafat and his terrorists off the hook there will be no end  in sight.

These are difficult times for the Jewish people.  The ugly specter of anti-Semitism has raised its head once again. Tragically, the world has learned nothing from the Holocaust, but we have.  We know that ultimately we Jews of the world are Israel's only dependable ally.  In the face of the almost universal scapegoating of Israel and the criticism of Israel, we must support Israel as never before.  The days ahead will be difficult for Jews everywere.  We must stand fast and we must stand together.

Our sages teach:  "A bundle of reeds can't be broken by a strong person.  But if taken singly, even a child can break them."

(Midrash Tanchuma, Parashat Nitzavim).  Israel must be stronger than she has ever been before.  And we must be stronger than we've ever been before.  In the days ahead we will be called upon to contribute to Israel's cause with our time and with our resources.  May we respond to the challenge and not be found wanting.

There is a striking difference between the ancient ritual of Yom Kippur and the concept of the scapegoat.  To scapegoat is to blame someone else for your failings.  In the Yom Kippur ritual, the High Priest placed his hands on the head of a goat and confessed the sins of the people.  Only then was the goat banished. 

So must the Palestinians and other Arab nations, who are really responsible for Palestinian and Israeli suffering, have the honesting and the integrity to accept blame and responsibility for their own actions.  The Palestinians have missed every opportunity for peace.  Arafat has broken every agreement, betrayed every handshake and brought misery to his people.  He must no longer be permitted to blame Israel for his behavior. 

We Jews have outlived every enemy that sought to destroy us.  So shall we outlive all those who seek to blame us for the ills of the world.  As long as we stand together and with Israel, we shall prevail. 
Jerusalem Insights # 356
A Project of Shorashim Of The Old City
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