It was certainly much easier to expiate a transgression two thousand years
ago than it is today. In ancient times, the transgressor would bring a
sacrificial offering to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. He would confess his
sins, repent and offer up the sacrifice as a symbol of his desire to
rededicate himself to his Creator. The sanctity of the place and the
sublime spirituality of the process would cleanse his soul and purify his
spirit, and he would go home spiritually rejuvenated.
The Torah, while describing the process of the sacrificial service at
great length and in exhaustive detail, introduces the topic with a curious
statement. “When a man (adam) from among you brings a sacrifice . . .” The
Torah usually refers to a man with the Hebrew word ish, yet here the Torah
chooses the unusual word adam, which brings to mind Adam, the first man.
What is the point of being reminded of Adam when we bring a sacrifice to
atone for a sin?
Furthermore, why does the Torah speak of a man “from among you” that
brings a sacrifice? What is added by this seemingly superfluous phrase?
Isn’t every man “from among you”?
The commentators explain that the purpose of a sacrifice is not only to
express contrition for the sin but also to repair the damage that sin
caused in the world. A person does not live in a vacuum, an island unto
himself. Every sinful act creates a void of the Creator’s presence in the
spiritual ecosystem, causing the retraction, so to speak, of the Divine
Presence and the proliferation of negative energy. A sinful act causes the
spiritual level of the world to fall, just as a mitzvah causes it to rise.
Therefore, a person committing a sin affects not only himself but also his
surroundings, his family, his friends, his community and to a certain
extent the entire world.
Adam was the first man in the world, and in his mind, his decision to eat
the forbidden fruit was a private decision. He thought it affected no one
but him. But he was wrong. His one sinful act had tremendous ramifications
for all future generations. It introduced death to the human experience.
This is the lesson we learn from Adam. There are no private decisions.
Every act we commit has far-reaching implications for the spiritual
condition of our environment. This is what a person should have in mind
when he brings a sacrifice to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. He must
realize that, like Adam, he mistakenly considered his sinful act
victimless, affecting only himself. But he was really “from among you.”
His sinful act affected others as well, and it is the purpose of the
sacrifice to repair the damage he has wrought.
A young man booked passage on a pleasure cruise ship. He took a cabin on
the lowest deck, because those were the least expensive. After a few days,
he locked himself in his room and ordered his meals delivered to his door.
The waiter who brought the meal noticed that the passageway was damp, and
as he approached the young man’s door, he saw water pulsing out from under
his door. He bent down to smell it, and to his horror, he discovered that
it was seawater. In a panic, he banged on the young man’s door, but there
was no response.
He ran to get the captain, and in a few minutes, the captain arrived with
two crew members carrying axes. They broke down the door and found the
young man drilling holes in the side of the ship.
“What are you doing?” screamed the captain. “Do you want to kill all of
us? Do you want to sink this ship?”
“What are you talking about?” the young man retorted. “This is my private
cabin. I paid for it, and I have the right to do anything I want in it.”
In our own lives, we are all living in cabins on the great cruise ship of
life. We may sometimes think we are independent individuals, answering
only to ourselves. But as the popular saying goes, we are indeed all
connected. The things we say or do, a harsh word, a thoughtless act, a
spiritual transgression can harm the people around us. On the other hand,
a warm smile, an act of kindness, a word of encouragement can touch, move
and inspire. Our acts may cause a ripple effect whose extent cannot be
measured. And even if we manage to keep certain behaviors in total
isolation, they still leave a mark in the spiritual world. We may think we
are “Adam,” but let us always remember that we are really “from among us.”