In the middle of this week’s Parashah, we find the Torah enters into a discussion concerning one who sins unintentionally. However, when the Torah first introduces this topic, it does so in a very peculiar manner. The section starts off by stating, “Dabeir El Bnei Yisrael Leimor Nefesh Ki Techeta ViShgagah MiKol Mitzvot Hashem Asher Lo Tei’asenah VeAsah MeiAchat MeiHeinah," “Speak to Bnei Yisrael saying: If anyone shall sin through error, in any of the things which Hashem has commanded not to be done, and shall do any one of them" (VaYikra 4:2). The Torah proceeds to detail the different types of people who might commit these sins and how they would proceed.
Ramban, commenting on this Pasuk, asks why the Torah would specifically introduce the topic of unintentionally sinning by mentioning the Neshamah, soul, of a person and not the person himself. He explains that since all of our thoughts come from our Neshamah it is really the Neshamah that is committing these unintentional sins. The Torah is simply being the most direct when referring to the source of the sin. Ramban then explains the reasoning behind the concept of bringing a Korban as a reaction to committing such a sin. Ramban says that after we die our goal is to enter the Gates to Hashem with a perfect Neshamah. Any form of a sin, therefore, whether it be deliberate or unintentional will create a blemish on our Neshamot. In order to avoid this blemish, we offer a Korban to rectify ourselves. Ramban even states that what separates us from every other nation in the world is our ability to enter into Gan Eiden with this perfect record. It is crucial for us to maintain such a record so that we can be judged favorable compared to other nations.
At face value, the view that Ramban is presenting is quite daunting. He is suggesting that we are either perfect or in error. There is no margin of error at the end of our lives and even an unintentional mistake mars our record. At the same time, we do have the concept of a Yeitzer HaRa, which in itself serves to make us imperfect. With this in mind, how can we possibly maintain such a spotless record when there is a powerful force, namely, the Yeitzer HaRa, which is competing with Ramban’s idea of the perfect Jew?
The first step to meeting Ramban’s idealized expectations is to admit the fact that we are all imperfect. HaKadosh Baruch Hu did not create anyone who does not have flaws or weaknesses. The question we must ask ourselves is not whether or not we have flaws, but, rather, what those flaws are. We are given the challenge of identifying the weaknesses within ourselves and trying to improve on these. One of the staples of Torah is the idea of Teshuvah, repentance for our bad deeds. During the process of Teshuvah we are required to admit to our flaws and only after that can we ask Hashem for forgiveness. Based on the idea of Teshuvah we can understand how to achieve Ramban’s concept of an ideal person. Even according to Ramban, we are not inherently perfect people; rather, it is our willingness and ambition to become perfect people that will qualify us to enter into Gan Eiden. That is the purpose that he believes the Korban serves when we commit a sin unintentionally. When we bring a Korban, we are acknowledging our sins and showing that we are trying to improve ourselves. That process in itself will hopefully allow us to achieve our goal of a perfect Neshamah.
When approaching these ideas of self-improvement, it’s important to remember that we are only human. Rav Aharon Lichtenstein writes that if one does a proper Bedikat Chameitz and later finds Chameitz during Pesach, not only is he in the clear with regard to the biblical Isur of Bal Yeira’eh UVal Yimatzei, he is not even considered to have violated the prohibition on any level. Rav Lichtenstein explains that the reason for this is because the person who found the Chameitz had already performed the Bedikah. He had done everything in his power to ensure that he would not violate the Isur. Since he did everything in his power we cannot consider him to have violated anything. He explains that we are human and we cannot expect anyone to go above and beyond that which is humanly possible to perform.
This idea can be extended to all Mitzvot. Hashem expects us only to do that which He knows we can do. This is a very important idea to remember when we are attempting to become Ramban’s ideal Jew. At times we are going to face challenges that may seem too vast to overcome. Still, we should recognize that when Hashem presents us with a challenge, it must mean that we can overcome it and achieve our goal. This should be the attitude with which we approach everything. Hashem presents us only that which we can handle. May we have the ability to recognize this fact when faced with any daunting task and, once we do recognize this fact, may we find the strength to achieve our goal of becoming the perfect Neshamot.