Meir Panim’s Tiberias Free Restaurant not only provides warm meals, but the opportunity to socialize as well.
Parshat Vayikra, which deals with a variety of sacrifices, devotes an extended section to the chatat, the sin offering, as brought by different individuals: first the high priest (Leviticus 4:3-12), then the community as a whole (4:13-21), then a leader (4:22-26), and finally an ordinary individual (4:27-35).
The whole passage sounds strange to modern ears, not only because sacrifices have not been offered for almost two millennia since the destruction of the Second Temple, but also because it is hard for us to understand the very concepts of sin and atonement as they are dealt with in the Torah.
The puzzle is that the sins for which an offering had to be brought were those committed inadvertently, be’shogeg. Either the sinner had forgotten the law, or some relevant fact. Here’s a contemporary example: suppose the phone rings on Shabbat and you answer it. You would only be liable for a sin offering if either you forgot the law that you may not answer a phone on Shabbat, or you forgot the fact that the day was Shabbat. For a moment you thought it was Friday or Sunday.
It’s just this kind of act that we don’t see as a sin at all. It was a mistake. You forgot. You did not mean to do anything wrong. And when you realize that inadvertently you have broken Shabbat, you are more likely to feel regret than remorse. You feel sorry but not guilty.
We think of a sin as something we did intentionally, yielding to temptation perhaps, or in a moment of rebellion. That is what Jewish law calls b’zadon in biblical Hebrew or b’mezid in rabbinic Hebrew. That is the kind of act we would have thought calls for a sin offering. But actually such an act cannot be atoned for by an offering at all. So how do we make sense of the sin offering?
The answer is that there are three dimensions of wrongdoing between us and God. The first is guilt and shame. When we sin deliberately and intentionally, we know inwardly that we have done wrong. Our conscience – the voice of God within the human heart – tells us that we have done wrong. That is what happened to Adam and Eve in the Garden after they had sinned. They felt shame. They tried to hide. For that kind of deliberate, conscious, intentional sin, the only adequate moral response is teshuvah, repentance. This involves (a) remorse, charatah, (b) confession, vidui, and (c) kabbalat he’atid, a resolution never to commit the sin again. The result is selichah u’mechilah – leading, hopefully for God’s forgiveness. A mere sacrifice is not enough.
However, there is a second dimension. Regardless of guilt and responsibility, if we commit a sin we have objectively transgressed a boundary. The word chet means to miss the mark, to stray, to deviate from the proper path. We have committed an act that somehow disturbs the moral balance of the world. To take a secular example, imagine that your car has a faulty speedometer. You are caught driving at 50 miles per hour in a 30-mile-an-hour zone. You tell the policeman who stops you that you didn’t know. Your speedometer was only showing 30 miles per hour. He may sympathize, but you have still broken the law, transgressed the limit, and you will still have to pay the penalty.
That is what a sin offering is. According to Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch it is a penalty for carelessness. According to the Sefer HaChinuch it is an educational and preventive measure. Deeds, in Judaism, are the way we train the mind. The fact that you have had to pay the price by bringing a sacrifice will make you take greater care in the future.
Rabbi Isaac Arama (Spain, 15th century) says that the difference between an intentional and an unintentional sin is that in the former case, both the body and the soul were at fault. In the case of an unintentional sin only the body was at fault, not the soul. Therefore a physical sacrifice helps, since it was only the physical act of the body that was in the wrong. A physical sacrifice cannot atone for a deliberate sin, because it cannot rectify a wrong in the soul.
What the sacrifice achieves is kapparah, not forgiveness as such but a covering over, or obliteration, of the sin. Noah was told to “cover” (vechapharta) the surface of the ark with pitch (Genesis 6:14). The cover of the ark in the Tabernacle was called kaporet (Exodus 25:17). Once a sin has been symbolically covered over, it is forgiven, but as the Malbim points out, in such cases the verb for forgiveness – s-l-ch – is always in the passive (venislach: Leviticus 4:20, 26, 31). The forgiveness is not direct, as it is in the case of repentance, but indirect, a consequence of the sacrifice.
About the Author: Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth, is the author of many books of Jewish thought, most recently The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning.
If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.
Comments are closed.
It seemed that every time we flew cross-country to participate in a family simcha, we received virtually the same welcome. On one hand, it was as warm and heartfelt as could be from relatives and friends, who were genuinely overjoyed to see us after a prolonged absence.
In our story a couple of kids discover Chanukah within the walls of a gym.
Shemos Rabbah states that Yaakov transmitted the “secret of the redemption.”
Just as the moon waxes and wanes and then totally disappears from view before returning to the night sky, so, too, the Jewish people.
Question: Why do women cover their eyes when they light Shabbat candles?
People thronged from all over Israel to take advantage of this opportunity.
At about 4 a.m. on cold and damp autumn mornings in London, Dad would try to wake us in time for Selichot, the pre-Jewish New Year dawn prayers. As we heard Dad’s footsteps mounting the stairs, my brother and I would hide under our covers and mutter our displeasure at being disturbed.
In this week’s parshah Yaakov Avinu takes his entire family down to Mitzrayim. The Torah lists the family members who made this journey. On the list is Shimon’s son, Shaul. The pasuk refers to him as Shaul ben haCanaanis – the son of the Canaanis.
Chapter And Verse?
‘Has The Time For Slaughter Arrived?’
Question: I have noticed that some people stand during the Birkot Keriat Shema. I was always under the impression that one is supposed to sit for Shema and its berachot. Is there a source that allows one to stand during this part of the prayer?
The wedding was going full blast, with the joyful Jewish music playing. The sound of the violin awoke unfulfilled longings and triggered moisture in the eyes.
The family had reached deadlock.
According to the Sefer Yetzirah, each month is associated with a letter of the aleph-beis. Teves was formed by means of the letter ayin, which has a numerical value of seventy – a number that figures prominently in Judaism.
The family had reached deadlock.
A while back I inducted a new rabbi into office. It’s something I do often, and there is a certain predictability to the proceedings. I give the new rabbi my blessings and encouragement. He in reply thanks those who have helped him through the years, and sets out his aspirations as a spiritual leader and his vision for the future of the congregation.
Bad things happen, and when they do, the leader must take the strain so that others can sleep easily in their beds.
The purchase of the Cave of Machpelah is evidently a highly significant event because it is recorded in great detail.
Leaders lead. They don’t conform for the sake of conforming. They don’t do what others do merely because others are doing it. They think outside the box. They march to a different tune.
Could we understand the history of Israel without its prehistory, the stories of Abraham and Sarah and their children?
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/making-sense-of-the-sin-offering/2012/03/22/
Scan this QR code to visit this page online: