The Greatest Inequality

Nissan 2, 5783
March 24, 2023
Candlelighting Time 6:58 PM 

We begin sefer Vayikra dealing with the various offerings that were sacrificed in the Mishkan. Some of them were in the category of voluntary ‘donations’ to elevate the owners of those particular sacrifices. However, there were many obligatory sacrifices both on the individual level and communal offerings. Some obligatory offerings were to enhance the person bringing them and others collectively strengthened the nation as a whole. And then there were sacrifices brought if one sinned or a public calamity occurred and the entire nation erred. Then a sin-offering was brought as an atonement for the individual or the nation. Within the classification of sin-offerings there were specific offences that obligated a special type of offering. Depending on the means of the offender there were three groupings. The animal sacrifice was the most expensive and if one could not afford that, then a set of birds was offered and finally if that was out of reach, then a meal sacrifice was brought as the penance. Although the sins included in that group were of various nature, one of them was entering the Mishkan or in latter years the Beis Hamikdash in a defiled manner. Or even consumption of the sacrifice if one was defiled was prohibited. The questions arises why was the Torah lenient in this case while in other situations the offender had to bring an animal sacrifice and it did not depend on whether or not he could afford it?    

Nachmonides presents a very interesting insight. The person who mistakenly entered the Mikdash or consumed the flesh of a sacrifice while defiled was actually involved in performance of a mitzvah. Certainly someone entering the Mikdash was not on a field trip that day rather he was serving Hashem in a very sanctified manner. Therefore, although not permissible, nonetheless, his mistake occurred while he was preoccupied with doing a mitzvah. Subsequently, we can somewhat mitigate his abrogation of the law although we cannot excuse it entirely. As a result, if he lacks the ability to afford the more expensive atonement, we can allow him to merit atonement in a less costly way.   

Even though for other sins when the person certainly did not intend to transgress, the Torah was not lenient when it came to the type of sin-sacrifice that was needed, in those situations the offender was not performing a mitzvah at the time of his offence. That line in the sand which portends to decipher intent clearly is at work in this law. 

We should not extend this principle to include all situation where a person tried very hard to avoid sinning nonetheless he erred in judgment and transgressed Torah law because we are not capable of discerning when such a modification of one’s responsibility is acceptable. A perusal of the other mitigating circumstances mentioned have no relationship to the Mikdash and rather involve transgressing one’s oath. Or if one is called to testify in a monetary issue and swears falsely that he is unaware of the situation that also is included in this grouping where the sin-offering varies based upon economic ability. Can we understand the common denomination between these different sins, of course not. However, Hashem in His great mercy has seen if fit to minimize the obligation in these circumstances. Again, we are reminded of Hashem compassionate and kindhearted attitude to His special people.  


The Torah demands that we offer our sacrifices willingly and if the owner objects, then we pressure him to comply. This indicates that when there is a need for a assenting disposition in serving Hashem we ourselves can beseech Hashem to compel us to serve him appropriately.