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Parshas Vayikra - Vol. 4,
Compiled by Oizer Alport
Adam ki yakriv mikem korban l’Hashem (1:2)
In the times of the Beis HaMikdash, a person who sinned at least had the comfort of knowing that he could bring a sacrifice to complete the atonement process prescribed by the Torah. In the absence of this option, how can a contemporary person fully repent and cleanse the effects of his transgressions?
The Mabit offers us a tremendous consolation. He writes that in the times of the Temple, when Hashem’s presence could be tangibly perceived, the ramifications of sin were correspondingly greater, thus necessitating the offering of a sacrifice to fully purify oneself from its spiritual damage. Since its destruction, we have been living in an era in which Hashem’s Providence is subtly hidden.
While this makes it more difficult to feel and recognize His constant presence, it also effected a change in the amount of spiritual destruction caused by sin. Because a transgression doesn’t cause as much damage as it once did, the bringing of a sacrifice is no longer required to earn complete forgiveness. Atonement may now be fully accomplished through the other steps of the repentance process, namely correcting one’s ways, confessing the sin, and accepting upon oneself never to do so again.
V’im nefesh achas techeta bish’gaga me’am ha’aretz ba’asosa achas mi’mitzvos Hashem asher lo sei’asena v’asheim (4:27)
Our verse introduces the laws governing the Korban Chatas (Sin-Offering) which must be brought by a person who sins unintentionally. Why does the Torah require a person to receive atonement for an action which was completely accidental?
An insight into resolving this difficulty may be derived from a story about Rav Yisroel Salanter. On one of his travels, Rav Yisroel was in need of money and requested a loan from one of the local townsmen. Because the man didn’t recognize him, he was suspicious of the request and demanded collateral to avoid being swindled. Some time later, Rav Yisroel encountered that same man carrying a chicken, seeking somebody to ritually slaughter it for him. The man approached Rav Yisroel and asked if he could do so.
Rav Yisroel seized the opportunity to teach the man a lesson in priorities. He pointed out that with respect to the possibility of losing a small amount of money, the man suspected him of being a con artist who wouldn’t repay his loan, yet when it came to the risk of eating non-kosher meat if his animal wasn’t properly slaughtered, the man had no problem trusting him.
Based on this story, we can appreciate how Rav Moshe Soloveitchik answers our original question by comparing it to a person carrying glass utensils. If they are inexpensive, he won’t be very careful, and periodically some of them may fall and break. On the other hand, if they are made of fine china, he will take extraordinary precautions to ensure their safe transport.
Similarly, if a person recognized the true value of mitzvos, he would take so much care to avoid transgressing them that accidents would be unthinkable. The Brisker Rav was renowned for what some perceived as a fanatical approach toward mitzvos, constantly worrying if he had properly fulfilled his obligations. He explained that just as a person who is transporting millions of dollars in cash would constantly check his pockets to make sure that the money is still there, his mitzvos were worth millions in his eyes and he examined them constantly to make sure that he didn’t lose them.
Although a person’s transgression may have been completely devoid of intent to sin, it was his lack of recognition of the importance of the mitzvah which allowed him to slip up. It is this mistaken understanding which the Torah requires him to correct and atone for.
V’im nefesh ki secheta v’as’sa achas mikol mitzvos Hashem asher lo sei’asena v’lo yada v’asheim v’nasa avono v’heivee ayil tamim min hatzon b’erk’cha l’asham el HaKohen v’chipeir alav HaKohen al shig’gaso asher shagag v’hu lo yada v’nishlach lo (5:17-18)
A number of commentators are troubled by the fact that the sacrifice prescribed by the Torah for somebody unsure whether he transgressed, such as a person who ate one of two pieces of meat and subsequently learned that one of them wasn’t kosher, is significantly more expensive than that required of a person who knows with certainty that he sinned. Wouldn’t logic seem to dictate that the opposite would be more appropriate?
The following interesting story will help shed light on this conundrum. The Mir yeshiva spent much of World War 2 in exile in Shanghai. Aware of the dangers faced by their families and friends, the daily prayers were intense. The prayers during the Yomim Noraim were powerful beyond words. One year in the middle of the Rosh Hashana prayers, one of the students walked out, only to return minutes later wearing a different outfit.
At the conclusion of the prayer services, several of his friends inquired about his peculiar behavior. He explained that he had been trying his utmost to pray with the concentration appropriate for the Day of Judgment, but try as he might, he felt that his prayers weren’t coming out properly.
He remembered that the mystics write that wearing shatnez can prevent a person’s prayers from being accepted. He realized that the new suit he had received for Yom Tov had never been tested for shatnez. Suspecting it as the culprit, he returned to his room to change into his weekday suit and noticed a marked improvement in his prayers. After the holiday concluded, his new suit was checked and found to contain shatnez, just as he had suspected!
In light of this story, we can understand the answer to our question given by the Chasam Sofer. If the smallest bit of dirt falls onto a bride’s pure white gown, it will be easily detected and removed. If, on the other hand, it falls onto an already filthy garment, it will be difficult to locate because it will blend in with the numerous stains which preceded it.
Similarly, if a righteous person needs to find out if he has sinned, he will be able to clarify the matter by checking his pure neshama to see if it has been sullied, just as the student in Shanghai was on such a high level that he was able to detect the problem with his suit. If he finds a “stain” on his soul, he will realize that he has sinned and will bring the offering of a person who knows that he has transgressed. If he finds no stain, he won’t have to bring any sacrifice. Either way, he will never be in doubt.
If a person is in doubt and is unable to recognize whether or not he sinned, as in the case of a person who finds out that he may have consumed a non-kosher piece of meat, it must be that his originally pristine soul has been repeatedly stained through his prior transgressions. It is for arriving at this pitiful spiritual state through his previous sins that the Torah requires such an expensive sacrifice to effect his atonement. Although reaching this lofty level may be beyond our grasp, this lesson is still relevant to each of us. We live in a physical world and are surrounded by a society which emphasizes its ephemeral pleasures. At times of personal trials, we should remember that Hashem sent us to this world to guard and purify our Heavenly neshamos. This recognition can help give us the strength to remain strong and keep our souls clean and pure.
the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) The Medrash teaches (Vayikra Rabbah 7:3) that in the absence of the Beis HaMikdash, one who recites and studies the laws of the sacrifices will be considered in Hashem’s eyes as if he actually brought them. Does this principle mean that the study of the laws of any mitzvah is considered tantamount to fulfilling it, or is this concept unique to the study of the laws of sacrifices? (Rashi Bava Metzia 114b, Kiryat Sefer Hakdamah 7:2, Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh 26:3, Torah Ohr 2)
2) The Gemora in Chagigah (27a) teaches that in the absence of the Beis HaMikdash, the generous opening up of a person’s table to serve the poor and other guests serves in lieu of the Altar. As a person’s table is comparable to the Altar and the food consumed to a sacrifice, the Rema rules (Orach Chaim 167:5) that just as every sacrifice required salt (2:13), so too the bread eaten at a meal must be dipped in salt. Need the bread be specifically dipped into the salt, or is it sufficient to sprinkle salt onto the bread? (Piskei Teshuvos 167 footnote 40, Bishvilei HaParsha)
3) Rashi writes (4:22) that a generation whose leader sins and brings an offering to effect atonement is praiseworthy. How can this be reconciled which his earlier comment (4:3) that if the Kohen Gadol sins, it is considered a communal sin which reflects badly on the people? (Meged Yosef)
4) Why is the blood of an animal brought as a sin-offering placed on the top of the Altar (4:30), but that of a bird brought as a sin-offering is sprinkled on the bottom (5:9)? (Darash Moshe)
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