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Torah Sparks

March 31, 2001 - 5761

Prepared by Rabbi Randall J. Konigsburg
Temple Sinai, Hollywood, FL

Edited by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations

Annual Cycle: Lev. 1:1-5:26; Hertz Chumash, p. 410
Triennial Cycle III: Lev. 4:27-5:26; Hertz Chumash, p. 418
Haftarah: Isaiah 43:21-44:23; Hertz Chumash, p. 424

(1:1-17) The laws regarding the olah, or burnt offering. The entire animal, except for the hide, was burned to ashes on the altar. The olah described here is brought by an individual as a voluntary offering to atone for neglect of positive commandments.

(2:1-16) The laws regarding the minhah, or meal offering. There were two types: communal meal-offerings brought on Pesah, Shavuot, and Shabbat, and individual meal-offerings usually brought by people too poor to afford an animal or a fowl.

(3:1-17) The laws concerning the shelamim, the peace- offering or "offering of well-being." Unlike the olah, which was completely consumed on the altar, the shelamim was a sacred meal, shared by donors and priests.

(4:1-26) The laws regarding the chatat, or sin-offering. A chatat was given for sins one committed accidentally or unknowingly.

(4:27-35) Similar sin-offerings, but for the individual.

(5:1-26) The asham, guilt-offering. This was given when one was uncertain whether one had offended, or in a case where someone had wronged another, denied his guilt, then later his conscience bothered him and he wanted to confess and make amends.

Theme 1: The Price of Sin

But if his means do not suffice for a sheep, he shall bring to the Lord, as his penalty for that of which he is guilty, two turtle doves or two pigeons, one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. (Leviticus 5:7)

  1. Here Scripture made a change, for regarding the offering of the wealthy and the poor it is stated (in v. 10) "from his sin" but here regarding the offering of the poorest it is stated, "upon his sin." Our Rabbis derived from this that if he had sinned while he was wealthy and set apart money for a lamb or a goat, and afterwards he became poor, he may bring from part of it the money for two turtle doves, and if he became poor he may bring from part of the money a tenth part of an ephah of fine flour; if he set apart money for a tenth part of an ephah, and afterwards he became rich, he should add to it and bring the offering of a wealthy man. (Rashi on Lev. 5:13)
  2. "If he cannot afford" (lit. if his arm cannot reach) Since it is with one's arm that one generally labors, and it is the arm that acquires objects, Scripture uses this metaphor to allude to one who lacks something. (Ibn Ezra on Lev. 5:7)

Discussion Sparks:

The Serendipity Bible (Zondervan Press) asks the following questions on this chapter: If you were to assign a "money value" to your sins, how would you go about it? People used to bring sacrifices which were commensurate somewhat to the magnitude of their sins. How far "in debt" would you be under such a system? a) one week's allowance? b) one month's wages? c) half this country's foreign trade imbalance!!?

So if we cannot follow the old system, then let us ask - "What should it "cost" a person to have G-d cancel the (sin) debt? Should we pay such debts in another way nowadays since we do not have a sacrificial system?>

Theme 2: Can We Talk?

When he realizes his guilt in any of these matters, he shall confess that wherein he has sinned. (Lev. 5:5)

  1. It is most significant that Scripture almost always uses the reflexive form to denote a confession of guilt. The sinner is not expected to "make confession" to another man, and certainly not to G-d who, in any event, does not need our "confession" in order to know that we have sinned. It is to himself that the sinner must admit that he has sinned. Indeed, such an admission of guilt to oneself is the very first, indispensable step toward mending one's ways, a solemn resolution that is in fact a prerequisite for his sin offering. For the offering as such presupposes the earnest resolve of Teshuvah, repentance; the "sin offering" is only an outward expression of this resolve. Without this resolve, the offering is meaningless... (Sampson Raphael Hirsch, Commentary on the Pentateuch; p. 388)
  2. Someone once said that having a conscience does not prevent us from sinning, it merely prevents us from enjoying it. Our recitation of the Al Chet prayer (on Yom Kippur) may not prevent us from repeating these acts of failure and mistakes, but it may help us become more aware of the patterns into which we fall by bad habits and unconscious errors. By raising our consciousness and awareness regarding the common mistakes of humanity, we thereby begin to slowly change our patterns of behavior and action. (Dov Peretz Elkins, Moments of Transcendence)
  3. Not all guilt is harmful. Constructive guilt, in fact, is beneficial. Three decades ago the playwright Archibald MacLeish, produced the memorable Broadway production, "J.B." based on the story of Job. Job was a biblical character who suffered without knowing why. In the MacLeish play, three comforters - a Christian, a Marxist and a Psychiatrist - approach J.B., "the modern Job", and use the no-guilt approach. The Christian says, "It's not your fault. You are the victim of Original Sin." The Marxist tells J.B., "It's not your fault. You are the victim of economic determinism." The psychiatrist also absolves J.B. by saying, "It's not your fault. You are the victim of unconscious drives you can't control." J.B. however, does not accept this no-guilt approach. He sees the value of constructive guilt when he says, "No, I want to be responsible. I want it to be my fault. Because that's what it means to be a human being. It means to say: 'I have the power to choose the moral content of my life.'" (Samuel M. Stahl in Elkins, Moments of Transcendence)

Discussion Sparks:

Do you think that we of the Jewish Faith are missing out on something if we do not have confessional as in the Catholic Faith? Why don't we have it in the same manner as it is found in Catholic practice? Where and when is there a time for "Jewish confession"?

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