Sin is a Constant Part of Human Life
Though this parsha, like much of the rest of the book of Vayikra, is
replete with difficult detail regarding very esoteric, spiritual and even
mystical topics of Temple service and animal sacrifices, there is a basic
and important message that the Torah wishes to communicate to us amidst this
welter of detail. And, I feel that this message is the recognition that sin
is a constant part of human life.
We are taught: “…that there is no righteous person who lives on this earth
without sin.” It is one of the weaknesses that we inherited from Adam and
Eve and therefore is part of the DNA of human existence. In recognizing this
fact, the Torah, as is its usual wont, deals with the reality of human
existence and not with an imagined perfection of human behavior that has
never existed in human history and will never exist.
Unlike other monotheistic faiths, Judaism does not allow for pie-in-the-sky,
super angelic portrayals of human life. As King Solomon states: “What was is
what will be, and there is really nothing new as far as human behavior is
concerned under the sun.” So the Torah in this week's parsha takes it as a
given that people will sin… and do so pretty regularly. Therefore an
antidote to sin must be created so that people will eventually improve and
find forgiveness for their sins from a benevolent Creator.
I think that the entire Temple service as described for us in the book of
Vayikra is meant to emphasize to human beings our innate weakness and to the
omnipresence of sin in our lives. Knowing that we have sinned is the
beginning of redemption and holiness.
I believe that this is part of the great message of Yom Kippur and why this
holy day retains its vibrancy and relevance even to Jews who are otherwise
far distant from Torah observance and meaningful Jewish life. Deep down
within us we are all aware that as human beings, not only are we prone to
sin but, again in the words of the Torah: “Sin crouches at our doorstep.”
The Temple building itself, the priesthood and the Temple service of animal
sacrifices, all combine to make the realization of sin a constant factor in
Jewish life. In order for this to be effective, the Jewish people had to be
aware of what lay behind the edifice, pomp, ritual, meat and wine that was
generated by the Temple and its services.
It is this point that the prophets of Israel stress in their condemnation of
the shallowness of understanding regarding the Temple service that so
characterized the kingdom of Judah in First Temple times. Being unaware of
the underlying message regarding the constant vulnerability to sin and the
necessity to counteract it, and merely concentrating on the antidote of
forgiveness, which the Temple represented, was shortsighted and eventually
led to the disappearance of the Temple itself. The Torah wanted us to
attempt to eradicate the source of pain and not merely become addicted to
pain killers. I believe this to be the subtle message of this week's parsha
and of the entire book of Vayikra.
Rabbi Berel Wein