Azazel’s Home for Wayward Goats

Mount Azazel by deror_avi

Aaron shall cast lots on the two goats, one for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel. Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the Lord, and offer it as a sin offering; but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel. […] Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel. […] The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a barren region; and the goat shall be set free in the wilderness.

—Leviticus 16:6-10, 20-22

On New Arrival day, Azazel woke before the sun to pray. He picked his slow, quiet way around the forty or so goats who had settled themselves near the path to sleep. When he reached the top of the nearest outcropping of rock, he raised his hands to the sky. He asked the Lord of All Breathing Things to have mercy on the New Arrival, to dim the full measure of His radiance so it wouldn’t be blinded for its long journey. To grant it sure footing on the path. For a gentle wind to blow its scent away from beasts who would do it harm. Then Azazel lay face down, his arms stretched out before him, palms turned upward. He had long since ceased to pray for understanding, to ask why he, potbellied, pigeon-toed, a lover of birds, would be entrusted to care for the goats of atonement. He had ceased to ask what kind of god would require a year’s worth of a whole nation’s sin to be put on a thin-spined creature, unable to remove the sandals from its feet. A goat who could not, as Moses did, alert God to its presence with a Here I am, who munched on the altar out of hunger or nervousness while it waited. On Azazel’s way back from the rock, the goats ran out to meet him. Excited by the prospect of the New Arrival, they frisked and leapt, nudged him with their soft noses, nipped affectionately at his legs. Azazel knew each one by name, and knew the names of their children and their children’s children. He knew their ailments, which ones had nightmares, which ones fasted on holy days. At the appointed time, a small delegation would go out to welcome the New Arrival and guide it home. At night, Azazel would make a bonfire and play the drums while the goats danced around the New Arrival, danced because they had all seen God and lived, danced as if to say, another one, another one saved.

Lisa Levy has a Master of Fine Arts in Fiction from Syracuse University and a Master of Divinity from Yale. In the fall 2012, she begins work as a chaplain at Yale-New Haven Hospital. Ultimately, she plans to start a companionship house for people living with severe mental illness. She lives in New Haven with her dog, Bobo.