Vayikra: To Feel For Real – Redemption And Repentance




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    Vayikra: To Feel For Real – Redemption And Repentance

    From the desk of Rabbi Nissim Lagziel, Mashpia in Oholei Torah: This week, we begin the book of Vayikra which mostly deals with korbanos. Among the various types of korbanos described in our parsha, we find the biblical imperative to bring a Korban Chatas (sin offering) for certain sins • Full Article


    By Rabbi Nissim Lagziel


    In Mussaf of Rosh Chodesh, we say, “a he-goat as a sin offering to atone for them.” Our Sages say that the reason we bring this sin offering is because G-d says to the Jewish people, “This he-goat will atone for Me for diminishing the moon.”

    When a Litvishe rosh yeshiva referred to this, one of his students asked, “But a he-goat sin offering is brought by someone who sinned inadvertently?”

    Said the rosh yeshiva, “Do you suspect G-d of sinning on purpose?!”


    This week, we begin the book of Vayikra which mostly deals with korbanos. Among the various types of korbanos described in our parsha, we find the biblical imperative to bring a Korban Chatas (sin offering) for certain sins (4:27-28), if a person transgressed them inadvertently. “If one person of the people of the land commits a sin unintentionally, by his committing one of the commandments of the L-rd which may not be committed, incurring guilt; if his sin that he committed is made known to him, he shall bring his sacrifice: an unblemished female goat, for his sin that he committed.”

    For which sins must a person bring a sin offering. Rashi quotes the Sages, “A sin-offering is brought only for such a transgression whose prohibition is expressed [in the Torah] as a negative commandment, and whose willful violation incurs the penalty of excision (premature death by the hands of Heaven).” This is also what Rambam writes at the beginning of Hilchos Shegagos.

    For example, if someone did not know that today is Shabbos and mistakenly turned on the light, he must bring a sin offering. Today, we are unable to bring korbanos and therefore, teshuva is the main atonement for any sin we do (along with other aspects of atonement mentioned in the Alter Rebbe’s Igeres HaTeshuva).

    However, an interesting question can arise: What is the halacha if a person sins unintentionally nowadays with a sin that obligates him to bring a sin offering. Will he have to bring this sin offering when the third Beis HaMikdash is built? More basically, in the era of the Geula, will we have to bring korbanos for all the sins we did inadvertently during exile? Imagine how many sheep and goats we will need to bring! That will cause a major traffic jam at the entrance to Yerushalayim…

    Interestingly, we find a contradiction between the talmudic sources and the Rishonim and Acharonim. On the one hand, the Gemara (Shabbos 12b) tells of the famous Tanna, Rabbi Yishmael ben Elisha who read by the light of a candle one Friday night (which is forbidden by the sages because one might incline it) and he inclined it by mistake. “He wrote a note: I, Yishmael ben Elisha read and tilted the candle on Shabbos. When the Beis HaMikdash is built, I will bring a fat sin offering.”

    He is not the only one. After him we find the Amora, Rabbi Elozor who said (Yoma 80b) that one who eats cheilev (forbidden fats) nowadays (by mistake, of course), must write down the amount, “lest another Beis Din come and increase the portion size.”

    Rashi there explains this to mean, “One who eats a medium k’zayis, should not write ‘I am obligated in a sin offering.’ Rather, he should write, ‘I ate a medium k’zayis; perhaps a Beis Din will come and exempt me from a korban.” We find something similar in the Talmud Yerushalmi (Peah and Chagiga) in the name of the Amora, R’ Oshiya.

    According to all these sources, we see that there is an obligation for any of us who inadvertently sinned to write it down in order to bring a fat korban in the Geula.

    On the other hand, not a single posek in history brings this down l’halacha. Not the Rambam, not the Tur, not the Shulchan Aruch, not even the Rema, paskened that there is an obligation to write down the sin offerings that you owe. The only posek who mentions this is the Magen Avrohom in siman 334 of Hilchos Shabbos and even then, he quotes it a bit oddly. “There was someone who transgressed a sin which requires a sin offering and wrote a note that when the Beis HaMikdash is built, I will bring it.” He doesn’t write that it was R’ Yishmael ben Elisha and he doesn’t pasken that we need to do the same. He doesn’t even bring this as an essential matter. He mentions it offhandedly as the second or third thing in his commentary there. If that wasn’t enough, the Alter Rebbe quotes the Magen Avrohom, as he always does in Shulchan Aruch, and he leaves this part out!

    The questions are: Why are the Gemaras ignored? Why doesn’t anyone pasken like that? Why don’t we know of any gadol who did this, Rishonim or Acharonim, Sefardim or Ashkenazim?


    The Rebbe, in part of a hadran on the tracate Yoma, discusses the subject and explains it in amazing fashion. At first, the Rebbe quotes Rabbi Moshe of Trani, known as Mabit. In his sefer Beis Elokim he wants to explain that there is a difference between the time the Beis HaMikdash was in existence and the time after its destruction. During the time of the Mikdash, the G-dly light shone openly in the world. Doing a sin, even inadvertently, was like a direct rebellion against G-d. As the Megilla says, “Will you also conquer the queen with me in the house?” Transgressing a sin before G-d? It’s the greatest chutzpa there could be and it obligates a person in a sin offering.

    In exile, however, about which it says, “we do not see our signs,” we don’t see G-dliness and don’t hear G-dliness; doing a sin inadvertently is no rebellion at all, which is why a sin offering is not obligatory. Although this is an explanation of one of the Rishonim, the Rebbe rejects it for the simple reason that R’ Yishmael sinned after the destruction which is why he said, “When the Beis HaMikdash is built, I will bring a fat sin offering.” That would show the obligation of a sin offering even when is no Beis HaMikdash.

    The Rebbe innovates an ingenious answer which teaches an important lesson in avodas Hashem. The Rebbe derives from a textual analysis of the wording of Rashi, that the obligation of a sin offering nowadays exists only for someone absolutely permeated with the knowledge and awareness that the Beis HaMikdash can be built any moment of his life. According to the Rebbe, the subject of korbanos depends on knowledge. Every deliberate sin is a result of knowledge. Even an inadvertent sin is connected with some knowledge because if a person knows nothing, his sins are not in the category of “inadvertent” but in the category of “compelled” or “a fool.”

    The Rebbe bring proof from the law of a “child taken captive among the nations” who has no knowledge of Torah, Shabbos, Yom Tov, kashrus, tahara. One view in the Gemara paskens that he is exempt of all sins! He does not need to bring any korban when he discovers that he is a Jew. Why? Because he had no knowledge and did not sin inadvertently.

    [Although the halacha is not paskened in this way, the fact that this view exists teaches us that awareness of sin is an inseparable part of being obligated in a sin offering.]

    From our perspective, most punishments in the Torah, including bringing korbanos, are unrealistic. They are far removed and abstract from our reality. Therefore, these punishments don’t move us that much. Let’s admit it, if someone would tell you, “Watch out, if you do that, you will have to bring a korban” – would that stop you? Would it bother you? Unlikely…

    This is because we lack basic knowledge (i.e. conscious awareness of that reality). We are like the “captive child” for whom Shabbos and Yom Tov, punishment and a korban, mean nothing. This is why all our inadvertent sins are exempt from a korban, because we don’t have basic knowledge about these obligations. A person who sins, who wants to atone by bringing a korban, must “repent due to his knowledge” but for us there is no knowledge, so how can we truly repent?

    But someone who lives with the Geula, someone like the Tanna, R’ Yishmael ben Elisha, like the Amora, R’ Elozor or R’ Oshiya, who truly felt the severity of the sin and felt the true obligation that this sin or another places upon a person, only people like these could be obligated in a korban.

    Since “the Torah speaks of the majority,” the poskim did not bring this l’halacha because, after all, most Jews have not reached the state in which their belief in the building of the Beis HaMikdash (and the fact that they might be obligated to bring a korban) influences their thought, speech or action, every day or minute. Therefore, people like these, like us, are exempt from the obligation of a sin offering until they actually merit to feel, see and internalize the intense holiness in the coming of the Geula.

    The lesson for us is obvious. We need to strive for the truth, to want to reach even the foothills of the spiritual level of the Tannaim and Amoraim who experienced and felt that Moshiach can come at any moment.


    We will end with a story which the Rebbe mentioned (briefly) on that occasion (6 Tishrei 5741). Once, in Teveria, the sound of the shofar was heard. Everyone was sure it was the shofar of Moshiach. The Chassidim of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk (Horodok) rushed to tell him. He opened the window and sniffed the air outside. He then said to the Chassidim that he did not smell Moshiach; he had not come yet.

    Chassidim explain why he had to open the window, saying that for the Rebbe in his room, Moshiach was always present. In order to know whether the Geula had arrived, he had to open the window to find out what was going on outside!

    Good Shabbos!


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