This past Sunday, 4 Nissan, marked the 5th yahrtzeit of my wife's grandmother, Rebbetzin Faigie Frankel. This week's shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmasah, Leah Feiga bas Aharon Tzvi.
In this week's parsha, a number of the different types of sacrifices are discussed. With regard to the chatas offering, it is written (6:18) "In the place where the olah is slaughtered, the chatas shall be slaughtered in front of HaShem. It is Holy of Holies." A similar description is given of the asham sacrifice. (7:1-2) "It is Holy of Holies. In the place where you slaughter the olah you shall slaughter the asham..." The obvious discrepancy between the two is that the order is switched around.
Meshech Chachmah addresses this disparity citing a gemara (Sotah 32b) which teaches "R' Yochanan said in the name of R' Shimon ben Yochai: Why was prayer decreed to be said quietly? In order not to embarrass the transgressor (who prays for forgiveness for his sins) for the Torah did not designate different areas for the slaughter of the olah and the chatas." A lesson is learned from the fact that the Torah specifically designated the identical place of slaughter for the olah and chatas (north of the altar). The chatas is brought for the inadvertent transgression of a prohibitive commandment. The olah is brought for improper thoughts of transgression or may even be brought as a gift. One who brings a chatas offering is saved embarrassment, as the onlooker cannot differentiate between a chatas and an olah for they are slaughtered in the same place.
It appears that this expression of mercy applies also to the asham which is brought for one of a smaller subset of specific transgressions. However, writes Meshech Chachmah, the pasuk gives this lesson ultimate priority when describing the chatas by enumerating it as the first criterion for the offering because it is brought for an unintentional misdeed. Since the asham is brought for deliberate offenses, this lesson is not prioritized to the same degree and therefore, the primary characteristic of the asham is that it is Holy of Holies.
What remains puzzling, is why the gemara used the chatas as the example for this lesson. Since the asham is, in fact, also slaughtered in the same place, the expression of mercy is prevalent there as well. It seemingly would have been an even stronger lesson had the gemara used the asham as the example. Another side question is that the olah is a male sacrifice from cattle whereas the asham and chatas are both female flock sacrifices. So, this onlooker of which the gemara speaks cannot be all too observant. The gemaras actually does address the gender issue and asserts that (in some cases) the presence of a tail would make it hard to discern. But the issue of cattle and flock is not addressed.
Have a good Shabbos and a chag kasher ve'sameiach!
Mishenichnas Adar Marbim beSimchah (see Rashi, bottom of Taanis 29a)