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Shabbat Parashat Vayikra 5772

Parashat Hashavuah: Does He or Does He Not Want Our Korbanot?

Harav Yosef Carmel

The first two parshiyot of Sefer Vayikra deal extensively with korbanot that Bnei Yisrael are supposed to bring in the Mishkan and, later in history, in the Beit Hamikdash, both as individuals and nationally. Additional sections (in Pekudei and Shemini) describe the service at the time of the inauguration of the Mishkan. Without a doubt, sacrifices are one of the major topics of the Chumash, Mishnayot, and the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah. Therefore, the p’sukim in Yeshayahu 43:21-24, which would have been this week’s haftara if not for Parashat Hachodesh, are perplexing. Hashem complains of Bnei Yisrael’s failure to follow His way properly. One of the things the navi says in the name of Hashem is: “I did not make you work with a meal offering, and I did not toil you with levonah (a spice brought as incense on the inner altar).”

There are reminiscent statements, like that which Shmuel said to Shaul: “Does Hashem desire burnt offerings and feast offerings as he desires listening to Hashem’s voice …” (Shumel I, 15:22). However, that is referring to bringing sacrifices instead of listening to Hashem (in that case, Shaul had spared the flocks of Amalek because he wanted to sacrifice them to Hashem). Similarly, in Yeshaya 1, the navi compares the people to those of S’dom and Amora and then says: “Why do I need your many feast offerings?” There, though, the pasuk seems to be saying categorically that Hashem did not command the sacrifices, when we obviously know that our parasha and several others are replete with such commandments.

Some give answers that are difficult to accept, such as that korbanot are not mentioned in the Ten Commandments or that the rebuke was referring to those who brought sacrifices idols instead of Hashem. However, we will focus on the Malbim’s brilliant explanation. The Malbim points out that Hashem never commanded to bring korbanot for sins that were done purposely. Consistently the chatat and asham sacrifices are for sins committed by forgetfulness and oversight, not for intentional sin. Regarding intentional sin, one does not receive atonement and is not permitted to even volunteer such a korban.

In addition to individual korbanot, there are also set public korbanot, including those that atone for sins. Firstly, it is an inescapable eventuality that within the whole community there is someone who has sinned. We may add that when an entire community sins, even if it was ostensibly done intentionally but along with that, with a lack of full knowledge and/or understanding, the Torah treats the matter as an unintentional sin. This is hinted at in the famous pasuk that we recite in the tefilla of Yamim Nora’im: “And it will be forgiven for the whole congregation of Bnei Yisrael and the stranger who lives in their midst, because for the entire nation, it is unintentional” (Bamidbar 15:26).

These principles must guide us in our outlook on any public matter. On one hand, being careful about holy principles in the service of Hashem is not a replacement to “clean hands” and careful following of His commandments. On the other hand, regarding the sins of the community as a whole, we should always view the shortcomings as unintentional sins.

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