Parshas Vayikra:
Rewarding Disgrace

By Rabbi Eliezer Irons

    The central theme of this week’s parsha is korbonos or offerings. The first offering mentioned in the Parsha is the Korban Olah or elevation offering. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains that the Olah denotes a korban brought by one who wishes to elevate himself spiritually, perhaps referring to the fact that the Korban Olah is completely burnt on the altar, while other sacrifices require that the one who offers it eat a portion of its meat.

    In the middle of the parsha (4: 27-35) the Korban Chatas, the sin offering for a private individual is discussed. This is the korban sacrificed by one who sins unintentionally. In contrast to the Korban Olah, which may only be offered from male animals, the Korban Chatas is offered from either a female sheep (ewe) or a female goat. The Torah, however, utilizes a slightly different terminology when referring to one who offers a goat as opposed to one who offers a sheep. In 4:31 regarding one who offers a goat, the Torah says, " And the Kohen shall provide atonement, and it shall be forgiven him." In contrast, when referring to one who offers a sheep as his Korban Chatas, the Torah says "and the Kohen shall provide him atonement for his sin that he committed and it shall be forgiven him." What is the Torah teaching us by adding the phrase "for his sin that he committed" when referring to one who brings a goat?

    Rabbi Yehoshua Leib Diskin offers an answer based on the Gemorah in Sotah 32b. The Gemorah explains that the reason we recite Shemoneh Esrei quietly is so as not to embarrass a person who asks for forgiveness for his private sins. This is similar, explains the Gemorah, to that which we find that the Torah is careful not to embarrass one who brings a Korban Chatas. The Torah tells us to slaughter the Chatas in the same area of the Mishkan as we slaughter the Korban Olah. In order that no one realizes that the person is bringing a Korban Chatas, we go out of our way to give the Korban Chatas similar laws to the Korban Olah. The Gemorah goes on to ask that one can easily discern a Chatas from an Olah. As explained above a Chatas is from female animals and the Olah is from male animals. How, by slaughtering the Chatas in the place of the Olah, can we delude people into thinking that the person is not bringing a Chatas? The Gemorah answers that a sheep’s tail, being long, disguises whether it is a ewe or a ram. The Gemorah responds, that when one offers a goat, with its short tail, it will still be obvious that he is sacrificing a Korban Chatas. The Gemorah concludes by saying that if one wants to avoid embarrassment, he should bring a sheep. The Maharsha comments that there is still an advantage in bringing a goat, for the embarrassment he suffers will add to his level of atonement.

    Continues R’ Yehoshua Leib, that the Gemorah in Brochos 12b tells us "if one becomes embarrassed because of a sin he committed, he achieves atonement not only for this sin but for all of his sins". The reason for this is that the embarrassment suffered as a result of his sin will strengthen his resolve to avoid sin in the future.

    With this in mind, we can understand why the Torah changes its wording when referring to sheep. When a person brings a goat as a Chatas he becomes embarrassed. Offering a goat is an advertisement of sorts that he did indeed sin. Therefore he atones not only for this particular sin but also for all his sins. In contrast, a person who brings a sheep avoids embarrassment, as others will think that perhaps he is offering a Korban Olah. When he receives atonement, it is only "for the sin he committed" referring only to this specific sin, whereas one who sacrifices a goat, "it shall be forgiven him" indicating a general forgiveness, of all of his sins.

    It is important that we keep in mind the double-edged lesson we can learn from this. That sin should be cause for embarrassment, and, however, that this embarrassment can pay a very large dividend.


Parsha Encounters is 1998 by the Chicago Community Kollel

Published Thursday, March 26, 1998



Rabbi Eliezer Irons is a full time member of the Chicago Community Kollel. If you have any questions please contact him via email at



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