Parashas Vayikra

This week’s parashah discusses various types of korbanos (offering). At the end of the parashah, the Torah discusses the korban asham (guilt offering). Below is an excerpt from the Torah’s discussion (Vayikra 5:17-19):
 If a person sins and performs an act that violates one of any Hashem’s commandments that impose a prohibition, but he did not know and became guilty, he shall bear his iniquity. He shall bring to the Kohen an unblemished ram from the flock, of the proper value, as a guilt offering – and the Kohen shall provide him atonement for the error he made and did not know, and it will be forgiven him. It is a guilt offering – he became guilty before Hashem (אָשָׁם הוּא אָשֹׁם אָשַׁם לה').
The Maggid sets out to explain the repetitive language in the last verse of the above excerpt. He takes as his starting point a passage in Mishlei (verses 6:1-4):
My child, if you have been a guarantor for your comrade, if you have given your handshake for a stranger, you have been tripped up by the words of your mouth, snared by the words of your mouth. Do this, therefore, and be rescued, for you have come into your fellow’s hand. Go humble yourself and placate your fellow.
This passage also contains repetitive language whose meaning is not immediately clear. The Maggid analyzes the difference between “you have been tripped up” (נוקשת) and “you have been snared” (נלכדת) in connection with a person’s words. There are two types of sins, the Maggid says, that a person can commit with his mouth. The first type of verbal sinning is a sin involving only an offence against Hashem. For instance, our Sages teach (Yoma 19b): “One who engages in idle talk violates a positive commandment. It is written ‘and you shall speak in them’ [the words of the Torah] – and not in idle words.” All the more so with mockery, which the Sages liken to idolatry. The second type of verbal sinning is a sin that involves an offence between the sinner and his fellow man, such as derogatory speech and gossip. The Maggid then connects this idea with the verse in Mishlei. The term tripped refers to a situation where someone has stumbled on some obstacle, such as a rock, fallen, and caused himself painful injury. In this situation, a person can alleviate his distress on his own; for example, he can drink wine or take some medicine to reduce the pain. By contrast, the term snared refers to a situation where a person has come under the control of other people who are causing him distress. In this situation, the person cannot alleviate his distress on his own; the most he can do is to beg his oppressors to show him mercy.
It is similar with the two types of verbal sins. When a person has committed a verbal sin solely against Hashem, it is within his power to repent. But when a person has committed a verbal sin that involves an offence between him and his fellow man, repentance alone will not clear him. The person must placate the one whom he caused injury, by rectifying the damage he did to him and asking him to forgive him. Only then will repentance gain him pardon from Hashem. With this, the Maggid returns to the passage in Mishlei. In connection with the first segment of this passage, the Midrash expounds as follows (Vayikra Rabbah 6:1): “My child, if you have been a guarantor for your comrade – the “comrade” is Hashem, in the same vein as is written elsewhere (Mishlei 27:10): ‘Your comrade and your father’s comrade, do not abandon.’” Thus, this segment alludes to the offense a person commits against Hashem through improper speech. The second segment – “if you have given your handshake for a stranger” – alludes to the offence a person commits against his fellow man through improper speech. Shlomo HaMelech likens the first to tripping (“you have been tripped up”) and the second to being snared (“you have been snared”). Shlomo then describes what a person must do to gain atonement – he must first rectify the damage he caused his fellow man, and then turn to Hashem to repent.
Finally, the Maggid turns to the excerpt in this week’s parashah. The Torah includes two separate passages dealing with the asham. The first passage deals with an asham brought for inadvertent misappropriation of sanctified property and an asham brought when a person is in doubt whether he committed a sin requiring a korban chatas. The excerpt quoted above is from the end of this passage. The type of sin the passage is discussing is a sin involving only an offence against Hashem. Thus, the atonement process involves repenting and bringing the asham. This suffices for atonement, and the Torah explains the reason: “he has become guilty before Hashem” – the offense is only against Hashem. The second passage about the asham deals with an asham brought for various interpersonal sins: denying a pledge or loan, theft, fraud, or denying having found a lost object. These sins involve an offence against both Hashem and another person. Regarding such a sin, if a person returns the stolen object and then brings the asham, he has satisfied his obligation to bring the asham, but if he brings his asham before returning the stolen object, he has not satisfied his obligation to bring the asham.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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