He shall bring his asham to Hashem…and the kohen shall provide him atonement for his sin.
The pasuk looks pretty straightforward. Bring the korban; get a kapparah. Except that it really is not so simple. The pasuk deals with what we call a korban olah v’yoreid – an offering whose value rises and falls according to the financial means of the penitent. The well-to-do bring a sheep or goat. The moderately poor are not required to spend as much on their offering. A pair of birds suffices. For the truly destitute, there is a further dispensation. They need offer only a measure of flour.
The point seems to be that the Torah wanted to ensure that these sins would be met with an opportunity for quick atonement. If a person owed a different type of korban and found that he just could not come up with the funds to purchase one, he would simply wait till he achieved solvency. Not here. The Torah provides an affordable option for all strata of wealth.
The result, we would think, would be the same. Bring the korban; get a kapparah. But our pasuk belies that simple formula. The rich man is promised atonement – but the other two categories are offered more! In their cases, the Torah adds, “and it shall be forgiven him.” Why the bonus in the lower wealth brackets?
It may be that those brackets get what is expected: atonement, that leads to full forgiveness. The rich, however, achieve some measure of atonement, but it does not imply complete forgiveness. The reason may be related to the laws that apply to sinners who change wealth bracket between the time they earmark funds for their offering and the time that they get around to bringing it to the beis hamikdosh. Rashi explains that if the rich sinner sets aside funds for a sheep or goat and then suffers a financial reversal, he can use some of that money for a korban from a lower category and keep the change. The same holds true for the poor sinner who moves down to the destitute category. He pays for flour, and may hold on to the difference.
This explains why the rich man is not promised complete forgiveness. He is sometimes at fault for failing to bring his korban promptly. Sometimes that means that he comes to the beis hamikdosh with a cheaper korban than he first pledged to bring. He compromised the quality of his offering by delaying his arrival at the Temple.
Now, it could be objected that the same should apply to the poor man. By waiting, he risks losing even more money, and finding himself in the destitute category, in which he brings flour rather than a pair of birds. Why is he always entitled to complete forgiveness?
To get the answer, we have to turn the tables. If a member of one of the two lower categories has a streak of good financial luck, he is obligated to upgrade his offering. Thus, the destitute has good reason to delay his korban. His level of obligation can only rise. Waiting is justifiable. He might want to wait in order to bring the more substantial offering.
The poor man (the middle category) can wind up bringing a more substantial korban if he is later enriched, or a less substantial one if he becomes further impoverished. Waiting is also justifiable; hoping that he will be able to bring a better korban if he waits is at least defensible, even if some risk is involved.
The rich man, however, can only move in one direction. Taking a chance that he will not be able to deliver on his pledge is not justified. Because of his sloth, he is denied the full forgiveness vouchsafed the others.
A similar anomaly can be pointed out regarding inadvertent sins. The Torah specifies a chatas – offering for certain aveiros committed beshogeg. It also describes procedures for the ruler and others for halachic decisions by the Kohen Gadol and by the chief court that were later found to be erroneous. In the case of the Kohen Gadol, neither atonement or forgiveness is mentioned!
We can find two reasons for this. First, all these offerings address inadvertent mistakes. A mistaken ruling by a Torah scholar, however, is not a true shogeg. We expect extraordinary care and punctiliousness from him before he renders a decision. As Chazal say, “A mistake regarding a Torah matter is reckoned as deliberate.”
Second, even were we to find examples where the decisor was truly blameless, he cannot be completely forgiven. People do not give him the benefit of the doubt, or know all his circumstances. They believe that his actions were deliberate, or that he took on a greater role than he was entitled to. This can be a chilul Hashem – and we know that desecrating His Name is dealt with quite severely. Even teshuvah and Yom Kippur do not completely remove the stain of such a sin.
- Based on Meshivas Nafesh by R. Yochanan Luria (15th cent.) ↑
- Vayikra 5:6 ↑
- Vayikra 5:10, 16 ↑
- Vayikra 5:13, from Kereisos 27b ↑
- Vayikra 4:27 ↑
- Vayikra 4:22 ↑
- Vayikra 4:3 ↑
- Vayikra 4:13 ↑
- Avos 4:13 ↑