Bits of Torah Truths, פרשת ויקרא, Parashat Vayikra, The Nature of Forgiveness
In this week’s reading, Moshe writes the following, וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר יְהוָ֖ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר׃ 4:1 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: דַּבֵּ֞ר אֶל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֘ל לֵאמֹר֒ נֶ֗פֶשׁ כִּֽי־תֶחֱטָ֤א בִשְׁגָגָה֙ מִכֹּל֙ מִצְוֺ֣ת יְהוָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֖ר לֹ֣א תֵעָשֶׂ֑ינָה וְעָשָׂ֕ה מֵאַחַ֖ת מֵהֵֽנָּה׃ 4:2 Speak to the Israelite people thus: When a person unwittingly incurs guilt in regard to any of the LORD’s commandments about things not to be done, and does one of them אִ֣ם הַכֹּהֵ֧ן הַמָּשִׁ֛יחַ יֶחֱטָ֖א לְאַשְׁמַ֣ת הָעָ֑ם וְהִקְרִ֡יב עַ֣ל חַטָּאתוֹ֩ אֲשֶׁ֨ר חָטָ֜א פַּ֣ר בֶּן־בָּקָ֥ר תָּמִ֛ים לַיהוָ֖ה לְחַטָּֽאת׃ 4:3 If it is the anointed priest who has incurred guilt, so that blame falls upon the people, he shall offer for the sin of which he is guilty a bull of the herd without blemish as a sin offering to the LORD. וְהֵבִ֣יא אֶת־הַפָּ֗ר אֶל־פֶּ֛תַח אֹ֥הֶל מוֹעֵ֖ד לִפְנֵ֣י יְהוָ֑ה וְסָמַ֤ךְ אֶת־יָדוֹ֙ עַל־רֹ֣אשׁ הַפָּ֔ר וְשָׁחַ֥ט אֶת־הַפָּ֖ר לִפְנֵ֥י יְהוָֽה׃ 4:4 He shall bring the bull to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, before the Lord, and lay his hand upon the head of the bull. The bull shall be slaughtered before the LORD. Note what is written here in the Torah text. The Lord is describing repentance! The difference here is when one does realize his or her sins he is to follow through as a faithful person to repent and bring the sacrifice. The Jewish commentary Chizkuni, Vayikra / Leviticus 4:2 Part 1 says “כי תחטא בשגגה, “if you transgress a law inadvertently; sin offerings as a form of atonement are acceptable only when that sin had not been committed deliberately. Deliberately committed sins cannot be atoned for by that method.” And Rashi on Vayikra / Leviticus 4:2 Part 1 also states “‘מכל מצות ה [IF A SOUL SIN IN ERROR] AGAINST ANY OF THE COMMANDMENTS OF THE LORD — Our Rabins explained ( Sifra, Vayikra Dibbura d’Chovah, Section 7; Shabbat 69a) that a sin-offering (of which this chapter speaks) is brought only for such a thing the willful committal of which is forbidden by a לאו (a negative command) and is subject to the penalty of excision).” The point being emphasized is between willful sin as opposed to unknowingly sinning. Nachmanides states the phrase נֶ֗פֶשׁ כִּֽי־תֶחֱטָ֤א is written in such a way using the word נֶ֗פֶשׁ as opposed to איש is meant to explain to us the particular category of a man the Lord is referring to. The word נֶ֗פֶשׁ is used to illustrate no particular man (איש) is referred to suggesting that sin originates in our heart, in our thoughts, and that sin is not a biological necessity or instinctive behavior but that it originates in the spiritual part of our lives. Nachmanides goes ont to say “The rationale for the need of the person who has sinned inadvertently to have to atone by means of animal sacrifice, is that all sins bring in their wake stains which leave their marks on our souls, something which interferes with our ability to receive beneficial Divine input from celestial sources. Our personalities are only fully receptive to divine input when we can be described as ritually pure, in the sense of being free from unexpiated sin. To impress these thoughts upon us, the Torah chose the introductory word נפש here.” The Torah speaks again and again of the nature of forgetfulness. The reason being, forgetfulness is a common problem among God’s people. The nature of forgetfulness leads to the inadvertent (unknowing) sin before God. This is why the Lord gives us so many warnings in His word to emphasize the importance of remembering. Much of Moshe’s message to Israel in the Torah, and specifically in the book of Devarim / Deuteronomy is a reminder to not forget the Lord God of Israel and His ways. King David wrote two Psalms on the bringing to remembrance (Tehillim / Psalms 38 and 70). We read a similar emphasis in the Apostolic Writings. Just as Moshe warned the people in Parashat Haazinu, we read the author of Hebrews reminding the disciples of Yeshua the Lord disciplines the one’s He loves. (Hebrews 12:5). Peter states to “add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self control, to self control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love.” He then explains “he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.” (2 Peter 1:5-9) The Lord reminds us to remain faithful, to remember His promises, and to live as His people. Paul wrote to the Romans, “I have written more boldly to you on some points, as reminding you…” (Romans 15:15). He wrote to Timothy in Corinth to “remind” the people of God’s ways in the Messiah (1 Corinthians 4:17). Peter plainly declared his purpose in writing to his fellow believers, “For this reason I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things, though you know and are established in the present truth. Yes, I think it is right, as long as I am in this tent, to stir you up by reminding you…” (2 Peter 1:12-13). This is the significance of נפש כי תחטא בשגגה, “when a person will sin inadvertently” the word הנפש and the absence of the word האדם refers to a combination of body and spirit. It is important for us to know this so that we appreciate that whatever reward or punishment the Lord God metes out He metes out to both body and spirit. The spirit alone, or the body alone, are not capable of performing actions which the Torah describes. i.e. the meaning of Vayikra / Leviticus 17:10, ונתתי פני בנפש האוכלת את הדם, “I will set My face against the person eating the blood, etc.” The Torah describes the combination of body and spirit נפש, as the spirit by itself could not eat. The point is the Lord God is interested in helping us to overcome sin in our lives that is coupled to both the body and the spirit. The good news is the Lord sends His Spirit to dwell inside of us and to help us to be overcomers. It is by faith and living in the Messiah that we achieve this goal and ultimately the plan the Lord has for our lives.