Parshat VaYikra

פרשת ויקרא 5775 מכללת מבשרת ירושלים

The קרבן חטאת- The Sin Offering- The קרבן of Morality
Throughout the sefer of Vayikra we learn about the different sacrifices done in the Mishkan; sacrifices pertaining to the individual, family, or nation as a whole. We learn about peace offerings, thanksgiving offerings, sin offerings etc. Even though these laws have not been practiced for many years- since the temple’s destruction, we can still learn many ideas in the values these sacrifices embody.
I would like to discuss a particular קרבן, the קרבן חטאת, or “sin offering”. There are four different cases where this sacrifice would be given: the כהן גדול , the קהל(the Sanhedrin), the prince (or king) and the regular individual; since each of their communal roles were different, so too was their form of atonement.
The קרבן חטאת .was only brought for major sins, those that if you had transgressed the penalty would be karet if done advertently. In order to only have to give a korban one must have transgressed unintentionally by either 1) not knowing about the law or 2) forgetting certain details pertaining to the circumstance the law applies in. The חטאת could only be given in those two circumstances, every other case would either require punishment, or nothing at all (for example you were being forced to transgress).
The question I ask is, why should a person who sins unintentionally require the giving of a קרבן whatsoever? Is a heartfelt “I’m sorry” not good enough? The sinner did not mean to sin, his or her כוונה or intent was lacking. If the sinner had known the required facts at that time he or she obviously would not have committed a crime resulting in such severe punishment.
The מפרשים offer many different approaches. Both Rav Shimshon Rephael Hirsch and Rav David Zvi Hoffman explain that ignorance- whether of the facts or the law itself – is in it of itself a form of negligence. We as עם ישראלand as Bnei Torah should be familiar with what we are doing, we should hopefully exercise vigilance and be aware of the results of our actions. The אברבנאל answers that the חטאת was not really a punishment for your past action, but rather a stern warning for the choices you make for the future. Since the sacrifice itself required much physical, emotional, and monetary effort it was a clear reminder for the sinner to be more careful in the future.
רמב”ן suggests that the חטאת was brought not because of what lead to the act, but rather what followed from it. Even when we do not intend to sin, it still in some way defiles us. In his words it creates a “גנאי בנפש” or a “stain on your soul.” Like when a person eats treif, even if it is accidental, there is something inherent about the sin- the non-Kosher food- that affects your body and spiritually damages it.
Whatever approach we look at, we see a profound idea- what we do makes a difference in this world. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, taking a more midrashic approach, explained that even inadvertent sins testify to something wrong on the person concerned. We learn in the Gemarah that Hashem does not even allow the animals of the righteous to do wrong, how much more so does he protect the righteous one himself. Therefore there must have been something wrong for the mishap to have taken place.
We see from the חטאת that if our will is good, if what we desire for is good, than we as people are good regardless of what we actually follow. Our choices do in fact make a difference but we are judged not only by our deeds but by our intentions- a deliberate sin cannot be atoned for in this way. Yet the very fact that we must atone for our sins shows that we cannot separate ourselves from our actions, we cannot just say “I did not mean to do it” rather we must accept the fact that a wrong was done and it is our responsibility to take credit for our actions.
As a teenager growing up in the “I” generation: “My”space, “I”phone etc. when I look at my secular peers I see a world that is all about me. It is about what I am doing, what movie I am watching, what party I am going to. Not only is it about all of those factors but it is the expression of those actions in an extremely public forum. The ironic thing about the “I” generation is that it is also the “it isn’t my fault generation”; teenagers today have an inability to take ownership of their own actions. What I learn from the חטאת is that even though when I forget to take out the garbage for my mother, I can apologize, say I did not mean to do it and then realize that the action itself was still done. Hakadosh Baruch Hu, like a father will always recognize our intentions and how they are pure, but he will also recognize that we have the potential to admit our own guilt for the sake of the community as a whole.
I learn from פרשת ויקרא that I have the responsibility as a member of כלל ישראל to remember that when it is my own fault, I can accept that fault and actualize my greater purpose as a member of my community. To use a משל, when we all pick up our own trash in the park, we do not have to pick up anyone else’s. I use the idea of the חטאת to teach myself that even though my age tells me I am in the “I” generation, I myself can be in the “make a sacrifice for YOU and I generation”.

Student Studying in MMY