“And Aaron shall lean both of his hands [forcefully] upon the live he goat’s head and confess upon it all the willful transgressions of the children of Israel, all their rebellions, and all their unintentional sins, and he shall place them on the he goat’s head, and send it off to the desert with a timely man.
The he goat shall thus carry upon itself all their sins to a precipitous land, and he shall send off the he goat into the desert.” (Leviticus 16:21-22)
There is another way to think about the possibility that one man can confess the transgressions of the many. Rather than one man being separate from the many, suppose that he is just part of the whole.
When I say, I see you, it is actually my eyes that see you, and then my mind identifies “what I see” as you, yet I attribute all the seeing to “I” rather than to my limited eye and mind.
In the same way, we can think of the priest as part of the community. Like a lawyer, he represents the community and can act on their behalf because he is one with the community.
My foot doesn’t need to know that I’m seeing you... and yet it is part of the entire event.
Who is the goat that carries away our sins? Is this a parlor trick? Is the goat a metaphor for our confession and regret for our sins?
Have we hurt the goat, burdening her with our sins? Some say the goat goes over a cliff. Is this fair if it really is a goat and not just our confession and remorse?
We know that the scapegoat doesn’t really excuse the perpetrator. Maybe a good reading of this section would be: who are you kidding... the only way to get rid of sins is to deal with them directly. They can’t be thrown out by a priest or a goat.
Some of our transgressions are unintentional. Here’s a discussion of the Talmudic interpretation of such acts. As is often the case, the rabbis disagree whether it is allowed to do an unintentional transgression.
An example that is mentioned in the Talmud is suppose your child wants to play with the head of a chicken. There is no problem here in cutting off the head of the chicken, other than it should have been obvious that the chicken would die, which is a transgression (taking life for no purpose). So the guiding light should have been whether you should have known better. Manslaughter is another example from our modern world. You don’t intend to kill someone while you are driving home inebriated. Yet your car jumps the curb and kills someone. You did exhibit poor judgment which led to a bad deed. Unintentional? Yes. Ok? No.