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Parashat Achrei Mot

"Ooo, she likes to dance with the devil... whoever the devil ma-a-aa-ayyyy be" sings the devil or Daryn Van Horne in the little known musical 'Witches of Eastwick', which I always thought was Witches of Elsternwick, but that's a story for another time. This week I want to talk about the devil's place in Judaism, witches and all things pagan.

In a recent assignment, we were asked to discuss the health beliefs of a particular subgroup in Australia. Instead of calling up AUJS and requesting the prepared essay on all things Jewish (although we are such a wonderful subgroup) I decided to write something on the 8,163 people who identified as Witchcraft practitioners in the most recent Australian census. One of the most interesting things I found in research was the hard work of the contemporary Witchcraft movement to negate stereotypes of devil worship, put aptly by Graham Harvey “We do not worship the Devil... we are not weird”.

But in Judaism, we do! Well, we don't worship the devil, but we definitely believe in one. Its name is Satan (and when you say it out loud, it shouldn't rhyme with my name, it should be more like s-u-tun) and this week's parasha would like to introduce you to it.

The parasha provides a detailed description of the Kohen Gadol's job on Yom Kippur, one of which is to prepare two goats, sacrifice one to G-d and push the other one off the cliff.

Hold on. Pushed off a cliff?! What's so important at the bottom of the cliff that we have to send little bo peep's precious little friend tumbling to meet its dark end there?

Well, the Rambam wants to say that the goat is an offering to Satan so that he will not meddle in the day of Yom Kippur. It is hard to believe that Judaism affirms the existence of the red, pointy eared, spear-tailed devil, and it is unlikely that this is the case. Contemporary commentaries suggest that the Satan lives inside of each person, a manifestation of their bad traits. The imagery of sending a goat to appease the devil sends a powerful message, it is impossible to destroy our inner Satan, to be free of our negative traits, rather we must learn to dance with the devil, to use our bad traits for good. Every negative trait can be used to bring about positive outcomes. Anger can be directed towards the social injustices the good-tempered people of the world are too timid to do anything about. Laziness can stop someone from doing bad deeds. Haughtiness can be channelled into leading others in meaningful pursuits. Instead of fighting these inner devils we must harness them for good.

Shabbat Shalom


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