HaShem spoke to Moses, saying: “Speak to the Children of Israel, saying: ‘When a person will sin unintentionally from among all the commandments of HaShem that may not be done, and he commits one of them.’”Leviticus 4:1, The Chumash
The book of Leviticus begins with Moses calling the people together as he begins to explain how they can bring voluntary offerings to Elohim. But here in chapter 4 the language changes. Moses begins to elaborate on what to do when a person would unintentionally sin. He demonstrates in great detail when and how one should bring an offering. However, unlike the three previous chapters, this offering would actually be required of them. But some might see this and think, “Wait a minute. If it was unintentional, how could it be a sin?”
We must first look at the word used for unintentional. In Hebrew, the word is בשׁגגה, vishgagah. The sages differentiate this word from accidental by implying that it was done inadvertently due to a result of carelessness. There seems to be a difference between not meaning to break a commandment and carelessness being the cause for the violation. Rambam states: “Even though they were unintentional, such deeds blemish the soul and require that it be purified, for if the sinner had sincerely regarded them with the proper gravity, the violations would not have occurred.”
He goes on to explain that we are careful with things that matter to us but often careless with trivial things. Citing Shabbat as an example, he points out that had the Shabbat been important to the individual, they would not have forgotten what day of the week it was. Continuing this thought, the Lubavitcher Rebbe writes the following in his book, Likutei Sichot:
“The reason why sacrifices were offered for unintentional misdeeds is because our deepest interests and aspirations, as well as our most intimate cares and concerns, are revealed specifically by our impulsive actions. It is through these actions that our “subconscious” self involuntarily surfaces. We do not need to atone for the misdeed itself, since it was done unintentionally. What we need to atone for is all the previous conduct and laxity that molded our inner selves into someone whose interests run contrary to G‑d’s will and who spontaneously rejected it.”
Likutei Sichot, vol 3, pp. 944-945
The Hebrew further strengthens this thought when we examine the text closer. When a person will sin can be better translated as, when a nafesh (soul) will sin. The problem appears to lie deeper than just at the physical level. If our innermost desires are not in alignment with the One who created us, it is as if our soul has turned away from the one who made it. Plainly put, in our laxness, we have demonstrated an attachment to things contrary to Elohim’s will. We’ve put ourselves first and demoted His commandments to second place whether we’ve realized it or not.
If you continue to read through the rest of the Parsha, you’ll see that the requirements for a ruler or king’s offering (verses 22-26) differ only slightly from the individual’s requirements (verse 27-31). A king’s offering is to be a male goat and the individual’s a female goat. In his position of authority (symbolized by the male goat), he is still liable to bring an offering for the same sins as the common individual. In a similar view, we as individuals are given the same opportunities for repentance as the king because we are all asked to yield our own will in an equal manner.
Though the sacrificial system set forth in this week’s portion is not accessible or even possible at this time, there are some things that we can take away from this reading. First, we should be more attentive to our obligations and not act carelessly regarding His commands. It is both a privilege and a responsibility to call yourself one of Elohim’s children. It is our job to learn what matters to Him and carry it out to our best ability. And second, when we sin, we go to our source of atonement, Yeshuah HaMoshiach. He is the sacrifice that cleanses our soul when we tarnish it through negligence, willful or ignorant. As we continue to work through this turbulent time in the world and “self-isolate,” I ask that we reflect on our qualities and seek out where we’re falling short, both with people and Elohim. My hope is that when we begin to interact with others, once more, we will be able to be effective and able to serve others as it is needed.