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Shabbat Parashat Vayikra 5773

Parashat Hashavua: Sin Against Whom?

Rav Daniel Mann

The korbanot of chatat fit into a relatively predictable category. If one mistakenly violates a sin whose punishment is karet, the consequence is a korban chatat. At the end of our parasha, there are several cases where a korban asham is called for, and the parameters are different and much less predictable. One of the cases is an interesting hybrid sin that deserves analysis.

“Should a soul sin and perform a betrayal of Hashem, and deny his counterpart’s claim regarding [various monetary obligations] … and swore falsely … he shall return … and his guilt offering he shall bring to Hashem” (Vayikra 5:25). There is no such a thing as a korban for a monetary sin that one perpetrates against his counterpart. This case is actually not a full exception, as the korban is only for cases where there is a false oath in which one invokes Hashem’s Name in the disgraceful context of a lie. However, the Torah seems to connect the betrayal of Hashem to the very denial of the money, and Rabbi Akiva (Sifra, Vayikra 372) confirms this view: “Why does it say ‘perform a betrayal of Hashem’? [When there are witnesses and documents,] he denies that which has witnesses and documents. When one gives to his friend something to watch and does not want anyone to know but the Third between them (Hashem), when he denies, he denies that which the Third is witness to.”

On one level, this stresses the matter of the sinner’s caring that people will catch him in his lie and not care when “only” Hashem will catch him. The Malbim (ad loc.) explains so beautifully. When one lies in matters where proof can be brought before human judges, the judges are in charge of seeing to the consequences. However, when one lies in a matter where only Hashem knows, He enters the fray, so to speak, to take steps as necessary.

There is another element to this hybrid offense, which is instructive about our view of monetary crime. It is unfortunately not rare enough for someone who is ostensibly careful not to offend Hashem to not be so careful about cheating his counterpart, especially when he does not believe he can be caught (chillul Hashem, chas v’shalom). The Torah tells us that this is already a betrayal of Hashem. It also teaches us that it is likely to involve a more direct affront to Hashem in the form of using His Name in a false oath. Indeed, there many ways to shift from a white collar monetary crime to desecrating His Name, and they are all unspeakably regrettable. As the Torah says, a korban will be needed for such sins, even though it was perpetrated on purpose. (One might even be able to suggest that from the religious perspective, there is an element of mistake, as he may not realize that withholding an obligation to a friend is a betrayal of Hashem.) However, this is not enough, as first he must make amends to the person he wronged, without which the korban to Hashem is not effective (Bava Kama 110a).

May we always find ways in which we can act properly both to man and to Hashem and not get caught in behavior of sin, where sinfulness in one realm carries over to another.


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