Torah thought forFriday 2 Nissan 5783 March 24 2023

Parashat Vayikra

From HaGaon Rav Zevadia HaCohen Shlit”a, The Head of the Batei Din in Tel Aviv
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)

Exploring Why a Sacrifice is Brought for Inadvertent Sins, A Person Should Have Studied the Halachot

This Shabbat in Parashat Vayikra we shall learn about the various categories of the korbanot (sacrifices), korban olah, minchah, shelamim and chatat.

Regarding the korban “chatat” (sin offering) it states in the Parashah, “If a person commits an inadvertent violation by violating any one of certain [specified] prohibitory commandments of Hashem, he incurs guilt. When he is made aware of the violation he has committed, he must bring an unblemished female goat for the sin he committed.” (Vayikra 4:27-28)

This means that a person who inadvertently sinned, without intent, he must bring a korban chatat to atone for his sin and then Hashem will forgive him.

We must understand this. Why is it that a person who inadvertently sinned is actually able to bring an offering? Why do they acquire atonement? He didn’t intend to sin in anyway?!

In order to understand this we must preface the following:

It happened that a poor person was having a tough day. This person worked in manual labour. Back breaking work from the morning until late in the evening. All this in order to provide a meagre wage for his impoverished family.

One day he bought a lottery ticket. To his surprise his luck changed and he won the jackpot, $5,000,000! There were no boundaries to his joy. After so many years of poverty and struggling he became a person of means. He immediately bought his family a palatial apartment, nice clothes and other household items.

This man knew that in order for the rest of his money not to be squandered he must invest it in a good business. He also hoped that in this way he will also increase his wealth. To this end he turned to a senior financial advisor, famous for his expertise on a global level.

The advisor heard what he had to say and responded, if you wish to succeed financially, you should invest in pearls because currently there is a great demand for natural pearls! Such an investment will bring you without a doubt great profits and there is no doubt that within a short time you be able to double and triple your investment!

He asked the advisor, what do I have to do to invest in pearls? He advisor responded, you must travel abroad to the Philippines to the islands’ shores. There you may obtain high quality pearls, competitively priced!

The winner took the advice and decided to act on it. He packed his things and his money and travelled to the Philippines. When he arrived there, he turned to the local pearl traders and asked to purchase pearls from them. The local tradesmen presented their goods to him whilst explaining to him:

There are three grades of pearls. The lowest grade are grey pearls, their quality and price is very cheap. The middle grade are the blue pearls, their quality is good but their price is high. The top grade are the pink pearls, their highest quality and the rarest, their price is exceptionally high but they are great sought after across the world and their profit is especially great.

The winner heard this and decided to invest in the best quality ones. He invested all his remaining money in pink pearls, the most expensive. But how great was his disappointment when he found out that the cost of exporting and importing pearls from one country to another, was also extremely high and the profits he hoped to make weren’t that high at all. Had he known this from the beginning he would have purchased the blue pearl, since their tax isn’t so high and from them he could have made very nice profits.

He sat down and reflected until he had an idea! He engaged a craftsman and asked him to colour the pearls blue. He said to himself I will pay a lower tax from exporting and importing the pearls. Afterwards I will thoroughly clean them and sell the pearls as red ones! And so it was, the craftsman succeeded in colouring the pearls using a professional technique until they looked like blue pearls.

Happy and in good spirits, he left the country. At the border inspection he presented his merchandise. Understandably he paid a low tax as required for blue pearls and continued to his destination. When he arrived home he took acetone and began to remove the colouring off the pearls. But to his shock, whilst the blue colour was removed so was the red together with it! In front of him were simple grey pearls, the lowest grade! The tradesmen defrauded him and sold him painted pearls!

With this we are able to answer our question. Why does the inadvertent sinner require atonement for his sin? The sinner comes and says, “I am at fault” but why do I need to bring a sacrifice? He wants as it were to “peal” the sin, to remove the negative impact that he has and be exempt from the atonement. But they will immediately ask him, why didn’t you know that the matter is forbidden? Why didn’t you study the halachah which guides you with what is forbidden and what is permitted? Why did you reach a stage that you don’t know how to conduct yourself? “I didn’t know” isn’t a sufficient response! [indeed, lehavdil in other judicial processes they employ the principle in Latin “ignorantia juris non excusat” – “ignorance of the law is no excuse”]. Due to a lack of knowledge a person comes to inadvertently sin, therefore they must bring a sacrifice for not having studied and not having known, until he unknowingly stumbled in serious sins! He is akin to the tradesman, who if he had known from the outset, he would have known how to expertly examine the pearls which he had purchased and then he wouldn’t have endured such aggravation!

The Torah considers all circumstances, it doesn’t come with unfair claims against a person, that if you didn’t study we will consider you a wilful transgressor, as if you did it intentionally! No, certainly not! But despite this, “to provide total exemption is impossible”. At the end of the day the sinner had an obligation to learn how to conduct themselves, and therefore they must bring a sacrifice!

When does this apply? Not once do we [attempt to] exempt ourselves  with the retort,  “I didn’t know”, “no one told me”. Here we learn that these excuses have the strength to determine that we weren’t wilful transgressors but there still isn’t a sufficient excuse, for they will always say to us, “Why didn’t you learn? Why didn’t you learn?”

We must study, and fulfil that which is stated, “These words which I am commanding you today must remain on your heart” (Devarim 6:6).

Shabbat Shalom!