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 person in our times fully repent and cleanse the effects of his transgression?
The Mabit offers us a tremendous consolation. He writes that in the times of the Beis HaMikdash, when Hashem’s presence could be tangibly perceived, the ramifications of a 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
While this makes it more difficult to feel and recognize His constant presence, it also effected a change in the amount of destruction caused by sin. Because the transgression doesn’t cause as much damage as it once did, the bringing of a sacrifice is no longer required to effect complete atonement. 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.
על כל קרבנך תקריב מלח (2:13)
The Gemora in Taanis (2a) refers to prayer as “the Divine Service of the heart.” The laws concerning the daily prayers are often derived from those which govern the offering of the sacrifices in the Beis HaMikdash. If so, where do we find in our prayers a parallel to the requirement that every sacrifice be accompanied by salt?
Rav Moshe Meir Weiss quotes a beautiful answer that he once heard from a Mr. Levinger. He posited that our heartfelt, salty tears are intended to correspond to the sacrifices, while noting that the Torah requires this “salt” to be brought together with every single offering!
ואם נפש אחת תחטא בשגגה מעם הארץ בעשתה אחת ממצות ד' אשר לא תעשינה ואשם (4:27)
Our verse introduces the laws governing the sin-offering which must be brought by a person who sins unintentionally. It is difficult to understand why the Torah requires a person to repent and receive atonement for an action which was completely accidental, with no intention to transgress whatsoever.
An insight into resolving our difficulty may be derived from a story involving the founder of the mussar movement, Rav Yisroel Salanter. On one of his travels, Rav Yisroel was in need of money. He requested a small 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, attempting to find somebody who could slaughter it for him. The man approached him and asked if he was could do so.
Seizing the opportunity, Rav Yisroel taught the man an invaluable lesson in priorities and values. He pointed out that with regard to the possibility of losing a small amount of money, the man suspected him of being a fraudulent 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 now appreciate how Rav Moshe Soloveitchik answers our original question by comparing it to a case of a person carrying glass utensils. If they are inexpensive, it is likely that he won’t be particularly careful, and periodically some of them may fall and break. On the other hand, if they are made of fine china and are extremely valuable, 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 performing 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 pocket to make sure that the money is still there, his mitzvos were worth millions in his eyes and he “felt” 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 the lack of proper recognition of the importance of the mitzvah which allowed him to slip up. It is this mistaken understanding which the Torah requires him to repair and correct.
ואם נפש כי תחטא ועשתה אחת מכל מצות ד' אשר לא תעשינה ולא ידע ואשם ונשא עונו והביא איל תמים מן הצאן בערכך לאשם אל הכהן וכפר עליו הכהן על שגגתו אשר שגג והוא לא ידע ונסלח לו (5:17-18)
A number of commentators are troubled that the sacrifice prescribed by the Torah for somebody in doubt 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 – 48 times more – 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
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 (a forbidden mixture of wool and linen) 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 and donned 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 offered by the Chasam Sofer. He writes that if the smallest bit of dirt would fall onto a bride’s pure white gown, it would be easily detected and removed. If, on the other hand, it falls onto an already filthy garment, it would be difficult to locate because it would 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 simply checking his pure neshama to see if it has been sullied, just as the student in
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, this can only be the case if 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!
ולא אותי קראת יעקב כי יגעת בי ישראל (הפטרה – ישעיה 43:22)
The Darkei Mussar (Parshas Balak) writes that of the thousands of parables developed by the Dubno Maggid, there were three which the Kotzker Rebbe declared were said with Ruach HaKodesh (Divine Inspiration). One of those three was used to explain our verse.
A businessman once returned home from his travels and hired one of the porters at the train station to carry his luggage to his home. Upon arriving at the man’s house, the porter put down the bags and approached the man to receive his payment. The traveler took one look at the boy and informed him that he had mistakenly brought the wrong suitcases.
The surprised porter questioned how the businessman could make this claim with such certainty when he hadn’t even seen the bags, which were still outside. The man explained that it was clear from the boy’s appearance that he had sweated and exerted tremendous effort to transport the luggage. As the bags which belonged to the businessman were filled with lightweight items which wouldn’t have required such exertion, it could only be that the porter mistakenly brought the wrong suitcases.
Similarly, Yeshaya related that Hashem told the Jewish people, “You haven’t called Me” in your performance of mitzvos. The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh writes (Bamidbar 23:21) that the study of Torah and the performance of mitzvos should be enjoyable and invigorate a person. Yeshaya teaches elsewhere (40:31), וקוי ד' יחליפו כח – those who look to and trust in Hashem will be constantly strengthened and refreshed. Just as the businessman told the porter of his error, the Navi chastises the Jews that they must not be learning and doing mitzvos for Hashem’s sake. The proof of this claim is that instead of feeling renewed and energized, “you grew weary of Me!”
Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) The Medrash teaches (Vayikra Rabba 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. How does studying these concepts and merely saying the words effect atonement?
2) Many of the sacrifices described in our parsha are completely voluntary in nature. If these mitzvos are so important, why isn’t their performance obligatory, and if they aren’t, for what purpose did Hashem give them? (Birkas Peretz, Akeidas Yitzchok, HaDerash V’HaIyun, Torah L’Daas Vol. 8)
3) The Gemora in Nedorim (10a-b) derives from 1:2 that a person who wishes to sanctify an animal to be offered as a sacrifice may say עולה לד' – an elevation-offering to Hashem – instead of לד' עולה. The Gemora explains that if he says it the other way, we are afraid that he may die before saying the word עולה and he will have said Hashem’s name in vain. According to this logic, how is a person allowed to say a blessing prior to doing a mitzvah when he may die before he performs it and will have said Hashem’s name in vain? (M’rafsin Igri)
4) The Magen Avrohom rules (607:4) that a person may not rest his body on another object while reciting the viduy – confession – on Yom Kippur because the viduy must be said while standing and resting on another object is legally considered sitting. How was a person who brought a sacrifice permitted to lean on it (1:4) while confessing his sins? (Pardes Yosef, M’rafsin Igri)
5) The Torah requires (1:7) the Kohanim to kindle a fire on the copper altar. Because the altar was five cubits tall (8-10 feet), they were required to climb up onto it to do so. How were they able to walk on top of it without burning their bare feet? (Paneiach Raza, Tanchuma Terumah 11, Tosefos Chagigah 27a d.h. she’ein, Rabbeinu Bechaye Parshas Terumah)
6) The Gemora in Chagiga (27a) derives from a verse in Yechezkel that in the absence of the
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