by Rabbi Jay Spero
Spero at 862-9546 or email@example.com
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"Speak to Ahron and his sons saying: ‘This is the law of the chatas (sin
offering), in the place where you slaughter the olah (elevation offering),
slaughter the chatas before Hashem, it is most special" (Vayikra 6:18).
A sin offering was brought for an unintentional sin, for which, if done
intentionally, the punishment would be Kares — spiritual cutting off. An
example is if someone forgot it was Yom Kippur and ate. An elevation offering
was brought for a few different reasons: Failure to perform a positive
commandment (wearing tefillin); a sin that he is unable to perform the
required rectification, for example, if someone stole and is unable to return
the object (it is no longer retrievable); sinful thoughts; and at each of the
three festivals when the Jews were required to come to the Temple (Pesach,
Shavuos and Sukkos).
The Ramban explains that the meaning of the word olah is to "come up",
to rectify sinful thoughts and ideas that come up in one’s head.
How could a person be liable for thoughts, and furthermore, what is the
connection between a sin offering and an elevation offering that they were to be
offered in the same place?
When a person does something by accident - for example, he forgets that it is
Shabbos and lights a fire - although he does not deserve to be punished in the
normal fashion because it was an accident, nonetheless he has done something
wrong. If he would have taken Shabbos seriously, he would not have forgotten. Or
if a person sins because he is unaware that this particular act is forbidden on
Shabbos, for example sewing, although he is not punished, there is something
missing in his observance of Shabbos, for he should have made an effort to know
the laws; thus the need for a korban (obviously, Hashem does not expect
perfection from us, just our greatest effort).
The Shem Meshmuel (the Sochatover Rebbe, a chassidic Rebbe in Poland in the 19th
century) explains beautifully. He says that the olah offering is slaughtered on
the north side of the altar: "Slaughter it at the side of the altar, to the
north, before Hashem" (Ibid. 1:18). The word in Hebrew for north is tzafon.
This word has the same root as matzpun — conscious. The north represents the
intellect of man (as it is the highest point). The conscious of man
controls his actions.
While a chatas is brought for lack of cognizance, an olah is brought because
lack of mental focus. And the lack of mental focus leads to unintentional sin.
In order to understand this we must first understand our relationship to Hashem
and how we are to carry out His will, the Torah. As stated many times here, our
relationship is one of love and fear, not merely one of carrying out the
commandments. In order to gain this approach we must try to the best of our
ability to have our actions and intent achieve synchronicity. So if for the
mental and accidental sins, the rectification occurs in the same place, then
also the growth and closeness to Hashem occurs in these same places.
We must look at the commandments as more than physical acts and we must embrace
their details and reasons behind them.
Jay Spero is the rabbi of the Saranac
Synagogue in Buffalo.