Echoes, mantras, song choruses — repetition is powerful. The rabbis were particularly attuned to repetition in the sacred language of the Bible, which they understood to be bursting with meaning. Since the sages thought of divine language as perfect, they did not view repetition as redundancy, but as an important clue to deeper significance. Any extra word was an opportunity, in fact a mandate, for deeper interpretation. Today’s page offers a beautiful demonstration of this principle.
According to a mishnah on today’s page, the goats designated on Yom Kippur, one for a sacrifice to God and one as a scapegoat for Azazel, were supposed to be identical, meaning they were of the same appearance, height and monetary value. The Gemara looks for biblical proof that the two goats had to “match” and finds it in the apparently extraneous word “two” of Leviticus 16:5:
The sages taught: It states: “He shall take two goats” (Leviticus 16:5). The minimum number indicated by a plural term, like “goats,” is two. If so, why does the verse state: “two”? It teaches that the two (goats) should be identical.
The idea here is that because the word “goats” in Leviticus 16:5 is plural, we don’t really need the word “two” that precedes it. The verse could have just said “he shall take goats” and we would have understood that two are required. This may feel like funny reasoning to most contemporary readers, but it’s a standard technique in the arsenal of rabbinic interpretation. Having established that the word “two” is unnecessary in this phrase, the rabbis conclude that it must be in place to give us some extra insight into the goats — in this case, that they are identical. This midrash furnishes biblical proof of the mishnah’s statement.
But the Gemara is far from done with this project. Remember, we promised a discussion of repetition. That’s where the sages go next.
And from where do we derive that even if the two goats are not identical they are nevertheless valid? The verses state “goat … goat” (Leviticus 16:9–10) to amplify (indicating that the goats are valid even if they are not identical).
The rabbis notice another extraneous word — a second instance of the word “goat” in those same verses. Again, this may sound funny to contemporary ears. Leviticus 16:9-10 reads: “Aaron shall bring forward the goat designated by lot for the Lord, which he is to offer as a sin offering; while the goat designated by lot for Azazel shall be left standing alive before the Lord, to make expiation with it and to send it off to the wilderness for Azazel.” We might not find the second instance of “goat” so remarkable. But for the rabbis, this repeated word “goat,” without which the text would have been clear enough, is an invitation or at least an opportunity to look for a deeper meaning in the text. They conclude that it means the goats do not have to be identical (though it is still preferable).This is as if to say that by naming each goat separately, the text shows that they are fit to stand on their own separately.
Just below, we see the rabbis use the same interpretive move one more time. The mishnah says that in order to be considered identical, the goats must have the same appearance, height and monetary value. The Gemara finds proof of this assertion through repetition of the word “two” which actually appears three times in Leviticus 16:5-8:
One “two” indicates that the goats should be identical in appearance, one “two” indicates they should be identical in height, and one “two” indicates they should be identical in monetary value.
In this case, the repetition of the word “two” three times confirms for the sages that, as the mishnah teaches, there are three dimensions for comparing the goats: appearance, height and value.
The great rabbinic sage Ben Bag Bag (whose name also echoes), famously taught the following about Torah: “Turn it and turn it again, for all is within it.” More repetition! And more meaning. Always more.
Read all of Yoma 62 on Sefaria.
This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on June 12th, 2021. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.