This week’s Parasha discusses the obligation to bring a Korban Chatat (sin offering) after sinning inadvertently. The Sefer HaChinuch explains the psychological rationale of giving a sacrifice for atonement. It is impractical for an individual who has committed an inadvertent sin to achieve atonement by verbally committing to amend his behavior. Rather, a significant event must take place to shake the sinner from his ways. Therefore, the offender has to take a perfect he-goat from his flock and travel with the animal all the way to the Beit HaMikdash for its slaughter. Throughout the sacrificial offering, the sinner must understand that he is analogous to the animal, a carnal body, in that the human indulged in an inadvertent action, thereby committing a sin. The wrongdoer’s representative goat (meat) is therefore sacrificed with other symbols of human desires, namely, wine (Nesachim) and bread (Menachot). This striking ceremony is intended to leave a lasting impression on the offender. He is not like a goat, which has no intellect, but is an intelligent member of the human race. He will also realize the futility of a beast without a purpose on this planet. This realization will cause the sinner to understand that without Hashem’s guidance and direction, life is futile. Once this realization is established, he will be able to avoid transgression.
It is interesting to note that this entire process applies only if the transgressor sins inadvertently. One could have made a claim that only one who was aware of what he was doing and purposely sinned should be required to bring a Korban Chatat. Rather, one must learn that even if he is ignorant of the law, he can still be held accountable for his actions.
It therefore makes sense that as one’s responsibility and accountability increase, any inadvertent actions of an abominable nature will have greater repercussions. Therefore, the Pesukim in Perek 4 discuss four types of people who have responsibilities to others: the “anointed priest (Kohen Gadol),” the “Congregation of Israel (which Chazal understand to refer to the Sanhedrin),” the king, and the common person. Ramban makes an interesting observation regarding the four Pesukim that discuss these individuals. He notes that the Pasuk referring to the ruler distinguishes the ruler’s relationship vis a vis Hashem in a different fashion than it does the other three leaders. The Pesukim address a situation where the other three leaders do “Something against any one of the commandments of the Lord concerning things that should not be done.” Yet in reference to a king, the Pasuk is slightly different, stating, “He has done something against any one of the commandments of the Lord his God concerning things that should not be done.” This insertion comes to teach us something very important about the way many leaders feel while interacting with others. They often forget that they are responsible to others for their actions. They feel that they are “above the system.” This is not so. They are still responsible to Hashem for all actions that they do. Therefore, they too are liable for inadvertent sins, because they are still accountable to Hashem. They are responsible for undertaking a task which required responsibilities which they then failed to provide. Because they accepted responsibility, yet were ignorant of the law (thereby leading them to an inadvertent sin) they must humble themselves before Hashem and all of the people by bringing a Korban Chatat. This message of humility is one of the many messages portrayed by the Korban Chatat. In order for anyone to truly repent, he must understand the scope of his actions. By acting without knowledge, he is no better than the animal he must sacrifice and the consequences of his actions are very great. Therefore, he must apologize to God for rebelling against Him, albeit unintentionally. In doing so, he is publicly announcing to his peers that he sinned and resolves to do better.
-Adapted from a Dvar Torah by Nechama Leibowitz in “New Studies in Vayikra.”