Shamanic Ritual

The following is based on a Hebrew Text from Reb Zalman’s Sefer, Yishmiru Daat.  Click here for Reb Zalman’s text in Hebrew.  (Freely translated by Gabbai Seth Fishman)

In the ritual for cleansing a leper who has now been healed and, in the ritual for cleansing a house that is no longer with leprous signs, a living creature is released unharmed as a means for purification (cf., Leviticus 14:7).  So, too, with the goat for Azazel, (Leviticus 16:8) the goat is sent forth alive. In these cases, the animal is not killed; it is set free. The release functions in Shamanic fashion with the priest serving in a Shaman-role by releasing the animal back to its source and thereby effecting changes in Spirit World in a way that is similar to the function of chukim, mitzvot for which there is no logical reason according to the predominant way that we have come to think about them.

For the former cases, the priest sends forth into the wild, a living creature that is bearing the impurity of the leprosy of the person or the house. And in the case of the goat which is sent forth, there’s also a similar dynamic of impurity, because the Tabernacle (and later on the holy Temple) was all year long absorbing uncleanness from the sins and the transgressions of those bringing the sacrifices, as it is written (Isaiah 53:5), “it is pierced by our iniquities.”  Through the blemishes caused by the transgressions, there are breaches made to the containers of holiness.  By means of the breaches, some of the holy shefa, the holiness will escape outside.

In order to transfer away the pollution of the sins, they have to “effect atonement for the holiness” (Vayikra 16:17), in other words, to cleanse it. That sin-pollution is loaded up onto the goat which (ibid 10) is placed alive and sent forth alive sending him to AZaZeL which  can be read as EZ-aZiL / goat going away like Ize-Bar / a wild goat, back to the life outside of civilization. The goat is being sent forth (as are the birds in the other rituals mentioned) to be freed from its captivity and to be sent forth back into natural surroundings.

In the days of the Chachamim, z’l, they decreed that the goat should be killed so that no one would make use of it by dedicating it for the altar because once designated, an animal cannot be designated a second time without going against the laws of holiness.

It is my thought that in a time before the Chachamim it was in their minds to send the animal away alive, i.e.,  impurities are associated with domestication, purity is in its opposite, i.e. a natural habitat, return to something from before civilization and domestication. The ritual of setting an animal free loaded up with our sins effects purification by means of a return to the purity with which we’ve lost touch.

Some of these dynamics remain to this day with Shluggn Kapores, i.e., to take a living rooster, circling it around the head and in this way transfer our wrongdoings onto the rooster which is going to go etc. while im yirtz hashem, we go into a good life.  As we find a cleansing of our impurities, may there correspondingly be a cleansing in Spirit Worlds with ever higher rippling effects, amen may it be so.

2 Responses to “Shamanic Ritual”

  1. David Says:

    The concept of “scapegoat” has a dark history. Those who believed in this concept, or even those who never thought of it but who felt burdened by something in their lives have felt a relief through aggression toward others. Often it has been their Jewish neighbors who were selected as the subject of the aggression.

    I think this ritual is a remnant of what is evil in mankind. How better it would be to accept the burden and then work through it, changing one’s self.

  2. Gabbai Seth Fishman (Blog Editor) Says:

    I believe you are referring to when an individual “scapegoats” another individual or a group of people as a way to rid himself of personal responsibility.
    In that context, I strongly agree with your comments.
    I also believe that the piece is talking about a temple ritual which had a different kind of function than what we’d call “scapegoating”. Animals were brought up on the altar and slaughtered for a variety of reason, but in this case, at least according to one theory, the animal was not killed. Rather he was released into the wild after having Aaron enumerate the sins of the nation while placing his hands on the animal’s head.
    I really like the idea of having a way to deal with aggregate guilt and shame. As a young person, growing up in a world in which I “didn’t trust anyone over thirty”, it would have helped me personally if someone would have acknowledged the fact that there was a collective guilt in the society with respect to what was happening in Vietnam, or the environment. What Reb Zalman is doing in this piece is helping us dust off this ancient ritual and bring it into the present, thereby helping us deal with our current spiritual, moral and ethical realities in terms of clarifying individual responsibility and collective responsibility. We each have a relation to both.

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