Monday, March 15, 2010

Vayikra—Positively Burnt

The original post on this topic was posted under the title Positively Burnt three years ago.

In explicating the process of offering a wholly burnt-offering (Korban Olah), the Torah says[1] of the owner of said offering “and he shall lean his hands on the head of the burnt-offering and it shall become acceptable for him, to atone for him”. This implies that the Olah offers forgiveness for some sort of sin. Rashi[2], citing the Midrash[3], explains that the methods of repentance for inadvertent sins which, if done purposely would be punished by execution in Beis Din, spiritual excision (Kerisos), Heavenly death, or lashes in Beis Din, are taught elsewhere, so the Olah does not atone for those sins in their inadvertent forms. The general rule in the Talmud[4] is that a Sin Offering (Korban Chatas) is brought if one inadvertently committed those sins for which one is executed in the Earthly court or is punished with divine ex-communication when committed with criminal intention. Nachmanides explains[5] that the inadvertent performance of an act for which one would be punished with lashes or death from the Heavenly court, had it been done on purpose, does not require an atonement at all, and therefore the Torah prescribes no offering. Therefore, the Olah must have been an "appeasement" for some other type of sin.

Rabbi Shimshon ben Avraham of Sanz (1150-1230) asked[6] why the Midrash did not entertain the possibility that the Olah sacrifice atones for a sin committed intentionally for which one is usually punished with death, but was exempt from punishment for whatever legal technicalities[7]. Rabbi Moshe Yosef Moldaver answered[8] that an action for which one is obligated for a specific punishment, but is not punished because of a technical reason, is not halachikly considered a new type of action, which would necessitate a new punishment or sacrificial obligation for the transgressor. Rather, this action is totally considered a sin punishable with the first punishment. Halachikly[9], one not only cannot be punished a second time for the same action (whether an act of ritual prohibition or civil) that one was already punished for. The Talmud derives[10] from Exodus 21:22 that even if one's punishment cannot practically be carried out, the exemption from a second punishment still apply. This is analogous to the contemporary legalistic procedure known as "double jeopardy", which exempts one from a second punishment for the same sin even if he was practically not punished with the first punishment.

Rashi, quoting the Midrash[11], explains that an Olah sacrifice is an atonement for one who violates a positive commandment or for one who violates a negative commandment and fails to perform the positive commandment that is supposed to rectify the negative commandment[12]. Rashi explains[13], in a point further explained by Nachmanides[14] and Rabbi Yaakov Ettlinger (1798-1871)[15], that one is never obligated to bring a Olah as an atonement, rather, if one does, he attains his atonement.

Tosafos write[16] that after bringing an Olah one’s atonement is “floating. Rabbi Meir Lublin (1558-1616)[17] explains that the Tosafists mean that an Olah offering only atones for lenient sins, not for the more strict and severe sins. Rabbi Shlomo Luria (1510-1574) explains[18] that the atonement is “floating” inasmuch as the atonement does not occur automatically when one offers an Olah sacrifice, rather one must first perform Teshuva (repentance) and return to G-d before the offering of the sacrifice will complete its powers of atonement. His words echo that of Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher (1269-1343) who explains[19] that the Olah only serves as atonement for failing to perform a positive commandment or violating a negative commandment which is to be repaired by a positive commandment, if one repents from one’s sin. Other Tosafists write[20] that the Olah offers an atonement for one who sinned and never knew of his sin. According to this explanation, obviously one cannot be obligate to being an Olah for such a sin, because if he never knew about his sin, how can he be obliged to offer a sacrifice to atone for it? Rather, if one brought an Olah offering, then it atones for sins unbeknown to him, but if he did not bring one, he is not required to do so. Another Midrash says[21] that an Olah is an atonement for one who thinks about sinning and thus has sinned with his intellect, not for one who violates a positive commandment.

The Bible relates that upon King Hezekiah’s ascension to the throne of Judea, he repealed the idolatrous practices of his father and predecessor, King Ahaz. He reinstituted the sacrificial offerings in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, and the Scriptures tell, “They slaughtered the Pesach offering on the fourteenth of the second month, and the Kohanim and Levites felt humiliated and sanctified themselves and brought burnt-offerings to the Temple of HaShem”[22]. Rashi explains[23] that the Kohanim felt humiliated because of their lack of enthusiasm and zeal in re-establishing the services in the Holy Temple, as evidenced from the fact that they only offered the Pascal offering on the fourteenth day of the second month (Iyyar), instead of in the first month (Nissan) as is Biblically ordained[24]. Therefore, Rashi explains that the Kohanim and Levites felt embarrassed because of their indolent behavior. The Bible records that in response to this sense of remorse, they offered burnt-offerings in the Holy Temple. Why was the offering of burnt-offerings the reaction to their admission of guilt? Rabbi Simcha Maimon (of the Brisker Kollel in Jerusalem)[25] explains based on the above-mentioned concepts that the Kohanim and Levites wished to achieve atonement for their sin of delaying the offering of the Pascal Lamb in its optimum time (which is a positive commandment), therefore, after showing regret for their failure to carry out the positive commandment, which is a show of penitence for that sin, they brought Olah offerings in order to complete their atonement. This is because, as explained above, an Olah offering, coupled with repentance, offers atonement for one who fails to perform a positive commandment[26].

[1] Leviticus 1:4

[2] To Leviticus 1:4

[3] Toras Kohanim 4:8

[4] Kerisos 2a, Horayos 8a, Yevamos 8b, etc...

[5] Ramban to Leviticus 1:4

[6] Rash MiShantz to Toras Kohanim 4:8, however see Tosafos HaChadash there

[7] Such as a lack of witnesses, warning, a unanimous verdict (which disqualifies the verdict), etc…

[8] Shabbos, Parshas Vayikra 5767

[9] Bava Kamma 35a

[10] Kesuvos 35a

[11] See also Yoma 36a and Zevachim 6a

[12] For example, Leviticus 19:11 outlaws stealing with a negative commandment, while Leviticus 5:23 says that if one sinned by committing the prohibition of stealing, one can rectify his sin by performing the positive commandment of returning a stolen object. Accordingly, Rashi is saying that one who stole and did not return the object can achieve his atonement for his sin by offering an Olah sacrifice. (Although this merely exonerates one in the eyes of HaShem, nonetheless, in this situation, the thief must still offer monetary compensation to his victim, see below.)

[13] Erachin 21a

[14] To Leviticus 1:4

[15] See Aruch L'Ner to Makkos 17b

[16] Bava Basra 48a

[17] Maharam to Bava Basra 48a

[18] Maharshal, Chochmas Shlomo to Bava Basra 48a

[19] Pirush HaTur to Leviticus 1:4

[20] Da’as Zekanim to Leviticus 1:4

[21] Leviticus Rabbah 7:3 quoted in Ramban to Leviticus 1:4

[22] II Chronicles 30:15

[23] Ad loc.

[24] See Exodus 12:6

[25] Simchas Yehoshua to Parshas Vayirka

[26] However, Gersonides (II Chronicles 30:15) explains that the burnt-offerings were brought as part of the daily Tamid sacrifices as described in Exodus, end of Chapter 29.

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