The Mishna (Yoma 2:4) in today’s daf (Yoma 41b) makes reference to a crimson thread that was tied to the se’ir hamishtaleach (the scapegoat) on Yom Kippur, and in the subsequent discussion, reference is also made to the crimson thread used within the Parah Adumah (Red Heifer) ceremony (see Bemidbar 19:6) and the crimson thread used within the Metzorah ceremony (see Vayikra 14:4). However, what is not clear is the relationship between all three.
Significantly, both the Parah Adumah and the Metzorah ceremony involved cedar wood, hyssop and a crimson thread. For the Parah Adumah, these three items were thrown into the fire where the Parah Adumah was burning. However, in contrast to this, the Metzorah ceremony – which has significant parallels to the Yom Kippur avodah as it involves two birds, of which one was slaughtered and one was let loose – requires that the bird which is to be let loose be dipped into the blood of the slaughtered bird, along with the cedar wood, hyssop and a crimson thread.
And this brings us back to the crimson thread placed on the se’ir hamishtaleach and its relationship with the Parah Adumah and the Metzorah ceremony. Specifically, does the crimson thread tied to the se’ir hamishtaleach represent sins which we wish to destroy (like the Parah Adumah)? Or sins which we simply want to get away from us (like the Metzorah)?
Upon reflection, I believe that both these elements feature – at least in some capacity – within the ritual of the se’ir hamishtaleach which is both cast away (like the Metzorah), and which is then plunged to its death and is destroyed (like the Parah Adumah). And why is this done? As the Rambam explains (see Moreh Nevuchim 3:46), to symbolize how we wrestle with sin which we should remove from us as far as possible.
Oftentimes we think that the only thing we need to do to overcome a sin is to cast it away from our day-to-day life (like the Metzorah). But in actual fact, this is often not enough, and we actually need to destroy it as an option in our life (like the Parah Adumah).
Conversely, we may well destroy the option of a particular sin in our life (like the Parah Adumah), but if we confront it, we are still tempted, which is why we must do all we can to make life choices so that this sin is far away from our day-to-day life (like the Metzorah).
Thus, by combining the notion of sending away and destruction in the se’ir hamishtaleach, we learn how to wrestle and overcome the temptation of sin.