Forethoughts and Afterthoughts.
Commentary on the weekly Torah reading.
In memory of Father, Yosef Ben Zelig.
March 25th 1911 - May 2nd 2008
In memory of Mother, Nechama Bas Tzvi Hirsh.
June 9th 1925 - April 16th 2003
In memory of Uncle, Moshe Binyamin Ben Tzvi Hirsh.
December 12 1929 - February 2nd 2010
In Loving Memory of Moreinu Horav Shmuel Yaakov Weinberg, Rosh HaYeshiva Ner Yisroel
Vayikra (Leviticus 1-5)
4:27 And if a person from the people of the land commits sin by mistake by doing one of (the activities) forbidden in the commandments of G-D ...
4:28 ... he shall bring his sin offering (chatas)...
A chatas is brought when one accidentally transgresses a prohibition that carries a penalty of being spiritually cut off (kares) if it would have been done on purpose.
For example, eating certain forbidden foods carries the penalty of kares if done on purpose. If a person ate such forbidden food and forgot that it was prohibited, then when he later realized that he made a mistake he must bring a chatas.
Either a sheep or a goat may be used. Unlike other offerings, what is brought does not depend on financial ability. It is therefore called a fixed chatas.
Verses 5:1-4 list several transgressions that require another type of sin offering. Two are associated with vows and do not carry the kares penalty.
Another group of transgressions in this list deals with accidentally defiling sanctified areas or foods with tumah. (Tumah is a state of ritual ineligibility. For example, if a person is under the same roof where there is a corpse then he acquires a state of tumah. He needs to perform a ritual to exit from this state. The type of ritual depends on the type of tumah he contracted.) If he enters the temple area or if he eats sanctified foods while in this state then this would be a transgression. If done on purpose then the person receives kares.
Unlike the fixed chatas, the type of offering brought depends on the person’s financial ability. If he can afford to bring either a sheep or a goat then he must do so. If he has modest resources then he can bring two birds. If he is impoverished then he can bring a meal offering. This type of offering is called an oleh v’yored, signifying that its cost can ‘go up’ (oleh) and it can ‘go down’ (yored), depending on financial ability.
5:17 And if a person sins by mistake by doing one of (the activities) forbidden in the commandments of G-D and he did not know and he transgressed then he shall carry his sin.
5:18 And he shall bring a complete ram ... for a transgression offering (asham) ...
This asham is brought when one is not sure whether he transgressed a commandment that carries the kares penalty.
For example, say a person had two pieces of meat. One piece was permissible. The other piece was forbidden and carried the penalty of kares. He ate one, thinking that it was the permissible piece but later realized that he may have mistakenly eaten the prohibited food.
Now, a chatas may only be brought for a sin that was definitely done. Here, the person cannot do so because he is unsure if he transgressed. Instead, he brings this asham. If he later learns that he did indeed make a transgression then he must bring the chatas.
The Talmud says that this offering functions to suspend (makes talui) the discomfort he needs to endure to purge him from the transgression if indeed he ate the prohibited food (Shavuot 8b). It is therefore called an asham talui.
So far, we have discussed a fixed chatas, a chatas that is not fixed (an oleh v’yored), and an asham talui. And we said that the asham talui suspends discomfort / suffering if the person needed to bring a chatas.
It is noteworthy that the Talmud states that one who accidentally defiles sanctified areas or foods with tumah does NOT bring an asham talui (Hurious 4b). Such transgressions carry the kares penalty. Yet, there appears to be either no way or no need to protect the person from the suffering.
What would protect him if he indeed made a defilement?
The following came to mind.
There is something very unique about atonement offerings for accidentally defiling sanctified areas or foods.
There is an entire class of national sin offerings that are brought just this purpose. These offerings are brought during the holidays and at the beginning of each month. The Mishnah lists several views on what they specifically address (Shavuos 2a). For example, according to Rabbi Yehuda they atone for the following case: A person was in a state of tumah but did not know this, not that he knew but then forgot. Then he went into the temple area. When the national sin offering is brought he still does not know that he defiled the temple. That offering atones for all the people who made this type of defilement. That is, they never knew that they sinned, they don’t know if they sinned, and they may never know in their lifetime that they sinned.
Now, there are no physical symptoms from being in a state of tumah. It is completely invisible. It is therefore entirely possible for a very pious person to avoid entering the temple area or eating sanctified foods because he doesn't want to risk making a transgression.
Perhaps then, the Torah over-compensates making atonements for such transgressions as a way of saying that G-D desires that we be with Him during the holidays without our worrying about making accidental defilements.
Indeed, it is out of our close and intimate relationship with G-D that we have the temple area and sanctified foods in the first place.
Perhaps this is why there is no asham talui for defiling sanctified foods and places to protect us from suffering. Because these commandments emerge out of our close relationship with G-D, there is no need for suffering for those who are unsure whether they made such transgressions. This also complements the holiday sin offerings, brought to ensure that nothing discourages us from going to the temple.