In Parashat VaYikra, we learn about the Korbanot which were brought in the Beit HaMikdash. When describing the Korban Asham, the Pasuk states, “VeIm Nefesh Ki Techeta VeAstah Achat MiKol Mitzvot Hashem Asher Lo Tei’asenah VeLo Yada VeAsheim, VeNasa Avono,” “If a person will sin and commit one of all the commandments of Hashem that may not be done, but was unaware and became guilty, and he bears his iniquity” (VaYikra 5:17). One type of Asham is brought when someone is in doubt about whether they sinned in a case in which the punishment would be Kareit. For example, if there are two pieces of meat, one permissible and one Cheilev (the forbidden fats of certain animals), in front of a person, and he ate one of them not realizing that it could have been the Cheilev, he is obligated to bring an Asham Talui, a conditional guilt offering.
The idea of a Korban Asham appears strange. At most, the person sinned unintentionally. And it is equally possible he didn’t sin at all (as would be the case if he actually ate the permissible meat)!
Rav Eliyahu Dessler suggests that the Torah and Mitzvot must become such an important part of our lives that it should be impossible for a situation to come up in which someone sins, even unintentionally. If we are properly focused on observing Hashem’s Mitzvot, we would be conscious of our actions to the extent that we would never sin. The Korban Asham atones for the fact that this awareness of God has not yet been achieved.
People do not generally walk out of their house and then realize that they forgot to put on their shirt. Putting on a shirt in the morning is a habit that we do not have to consciously think about to remember to do. By committing an Aveirah through negligence, a person shows that keeping the Mitzvot is not as important to him as getting dressed in the morning. Unlike putting on a shirt in the morning, remembering to perform Mitzvot (and conversely, to refrain from doing Aveirot) can be challenging. One can all too easily walk out of one’s house having forgotten to perform basic Mitzvot in the morning like saying a Berachah upon donning Tzitzit (for those who do not wear a Tallit Gadol), and it is for this reason, explains Rav Dessler, there is a Korban Asham.
We should all strive to achieve the level at which we are so careful about our actions that we would not even commit a sin unintentionally.