Parashat Shemini begins by expounding on the laws of the Korban Chatat, the Korban that one brings in order to receive atonement for his sins. Interestingly, before Moshe explains the laws regarding any Jew’s Korban Chatat, he instructs Aharon to bring an Eigel, a bull, in order to receive atonement for an unmentioned sin (VaYikra 9:2). In the next Pasuk, Moshe goes on to describe the general Korban Chatat, which consists of a Se’ir Izim, a goat. Looking at these two Pesukim, we can pose two questions. One, why is Aharon’s Korban Chatat different from all future Korbanei Chatat? Additionally, what is the significance of the specific animals that are sacrificed as part of a Korban Chatat?
Rashi (9:2 s.v. Kach Lecha Eigel) answers our first question and part of our second question by explaining that Aharon had to bring an Eigel to atone for his leading role in the Cheit HaEigel (Shemot 32). This answers our first question, as to why Aharon’s Korban was different from all others. However, Rashi’s comment does not fully answer our question regarding the significance of the specific animals associated with a Korban Chatat? Whereas Rashi acknowledges the significance of Aharon’s Korban, he does not comment on the significance of all future Korbanei Chatat. Although Rashi’s confusing stance on our question could lead us to suggest that there is no reason why a Se’ir Izim is brought as a Korban Chatat, doing so would imply that there are instructions in the Torah which are of little to no significance, which is a very dangerous implication. Therefore, it appears that the wiser approach is to suggest that there is significance to the Se’ir Izim’s role in Korbanei Chatat. Regarding Rashi’s lack of explanation, we could suggest that perhaps the Se’ir Izim is so obviously related to Korbanei Chatat that Rashi did not have to explicitly inform us of that significance.
To help explain the connection between the Izim and the Chatat, Rav Daniel Fridman points out that the Se’ir Izim was involved in three of the most seminal sins in Am Yisrael’s history. In Parashat Toledot, Rivkah Imeinu panics and worries that Yitzchak will bless Eisav, not Ya’akov, with the most important Berachah. Therefore, she instructs Ya’akov to bring her two Izim so that she can prepare them as Yitzchak likes (BeReishit 27:9). Then, Ya’akov brings these Izim to his father – which makes Yitzchak believe that it is Eisav in front of him – and receives the Bechorah. In this episode, the Izim play an important part in what is perhaps the most significant deception in Sefer BeReishit.
In addition, the Izim appear in the episode of Yosef’s sale. After Yosef is sold into slavery, his brothers slaughter a Se’ir Izim, dip Yosef’s Ketonet into its blood, and present it to their father as evidence that Yosef has been killed (37:31:32). This episode not only caused great grief to Ya’akov Avinu, but it also led to Ya’akov’s children going into Galut.
The Izim play a significant role also in the episode involving Yehudah’s illicit relations with Tamar, who was supposed to marry Yehudah’s youngest son Sheilah. In this episode, Yehudah instructs his friend Chirah to send Izim to Tamar, so that the collateral which Yehudah previously gave to Tamar can be returned to him (38:20). In this episode, the Izim are integral in Yehudah’s grave sin.
In Ya’akov’s and Rivkah’s deception of Yitzchak, the sale of Yosef and deception of Ya’akov, and Yehudah’s sin with Tamar, the Izim play an important role. Perhaps, when members of Am Yisrael bring an Izim as a Chatat, they receive atonement both for their individual sin and three sins that forever changed the path of Jewish history. Additionally, it is possible that one who sins brings Izim in order to remind himself that he is not the first, nor the greatest, Jew to sin; on the contrary, Rivkah Imeinu, Ya’akov Avinu, and all of Yosef’s brothers sinned. Therefore, one who sins should not be discouraged. Lastly, from the Izim’s appearance in the Korban Chatat, we should learn the importance of communal responsibility amongst all members of Am Yisrael; even when one attempts to receive atonement for his own individual sin, he implicitly asks for atonement on behalf of his ancestors.