When he [Aaron] is finished atoning for the Sanctuary, the Tent of Meeting, and the Altar, he shall bring the living he-goat near. Aaron shall lean his two hands on the head of the living he-goat and confess upon it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their rebellious sins among all their sins, and place them upon the head of the he-goat, and send it with a designated man to the desert. The he-goat will bear upon itself all their iniquities to an uninhabited land, and he should send the he-goat to the desert.
— Leviticus 16:20 -22
And the he-goat designated by lot for Azazel shall be stood alive before Hashem, to provide atonement through it, to send it to Azazel in the Wilderness.
— Leviticus 16:10
I am writing this sitting on a hill in a Wilderness somewhere in the United States of America. I am here for purification, I think, maybe rededication, yes, that is exactly what I have come here to do. I haven’t spoken for days.
I have brought an instrument to make music with, a notebook to write in, a book.
There are many animals here, it is a wild place. I am a guest here, the Wilderness, this is clear to me. I asked the goats, the horses, the brush rangers, the bottom dwellers to allow me to squat on their ground, to pray here, to play my instrument. It was pretty, but it was not why I came.
On the fourth day, this day, I began to ask for forgiveness. I sank deeper into silence and an animal I cannot identify (it had somewhat elaborate horns, I am not an outdoors man) wandered by and nibbled from a loaf of bread I carried with me. I spread a piece of bread with peanut butter, Jif smooth, and the animal signaled to me in some abstract, trans-species way its approval.
Then the animal spoke. It’s about forgiveness, isn’t it — the animal said.
Yes, it’s about forgiveness.
Give me your burdens, the animal said, I am a load-bearing animal, I am a yoked animal, I submit to the yoke of your burdens and I carry them gladly into the Wilderness.
So I took my burdens — my self consciousness, my separation, my isolation, my flight, fear, especially my fear — everything that separates me from God and all I love the most, and I laid them on the shoulders of the animal. On the back of this beautiful yoked beast I gave up my fear, and I watched as the animal disappeared into the hills.
I lifted up my hands and said, to the trees, to the sky, to the stones, to the dirt, to the dirt especially, to the mud:
Is this the way it works?
From a distance I heard,
Yes, this is precisely the way it works.