The following is (c) Reuven Brauner, Ra’anana, Israel. Thanks Bobby 🙂
“What are the Se’irim?”
(ולא יזבחו עוד את זבחיהם לשעירים אשר הם זנים אחריהם, חוקת עולם תהיה זאת להם לדרתם. (וקרא יז:ז
And they shall no longer offer their sacrifices to the “Se’irim” (goats) to which they have turned; this shall be an eternal ordinance for all generations (Levit. 17:7).
God commands Moses to tell Aaron, his sons and all of Israel about the prohibition of bringing sacrifices outside the Camp and newly dedicated Tabernacle. There shall only be one place where this form of Divine worship will be permitted, and from now, all external altars shall be strictly forbidden. This section ends with the verse cited above with the directive that the people will no longer sacrifice to the “Se’irim”, literally goats, but understood to mean demons (שדים – see Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Ramban, Sforno, Malbim, and others) who lived in the wilderness and frightened the people. Most of the classic commentaries do not define this word in its plain meaning but in the sense that either the people imagined that these demons as goat-like or from the root שער (,(סער a storm, which agitates the atmosphere, that is, the people would shudder and tremble in fear when they saw these devils.
Some of our commentaries indicate that maybe the Israelites in Egypt still wrongfully believed that there was a god of good and a god of evil which each needed to be appeased with sacrifices. Now that there was a single Tabernacle, sacrifices to multiple gods was not only no longer relevant, but an affront to the worship of the One God.
Possible evidence to the root meaning of the word שעיר may come from an interesting source. We have found that some translations of the Bible translate Sa’ir (שעיר) as satyr rather than the more common term, goat. Satyr and Sa’ir are possibly closely related etymologically.
The satyr was a Greek and Roman mythological half-man, half-goat creature or some sort of beast with goat-like (hairy?) features, living in the forests or deserts and characterized with a particularly virile sexual prowess. They also played flutes, maybe to allure unsuspecting victims with their music. These hedonistic, wine-drinking demons instilled great dread amongst the people and, in fear, the people would have naturally offered sacrifices to ward off these creatures and protect themselves from their lewd deeds.
Today we may say that these were not external sprites at all, but simply the mental symbolization of the internal sex drive which overpowered people and “compelled” them to commit unspeakable crimes of lust and passion.
Regardless, the lesson is clear that the Torah is teaching that demons, whatever their nature, source or appearance can be controlled by the single, omnipotent God, the source of everything, and the focus of all our thoughts, prayers and worship. Once the Tabernacle was constructed, the people needed to know that there was no further room to contemplate alternative gods or demons which had to be mollified. The person who acknowledges the One God has the one and only address for all his needs and desires, and the only true source for his salvation, healing and happiness.
20 Nissan 5776
For further information about goat symbolism, I found the following interesting site: