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Parshas Vayikra - The King and I

By Rabbi Zvi Teichman

Posted on 03/14/19

Parshas HaShavua Divrei Torah sponsored by
Dr. Shapsy Tajerstein, DPM - Podiatry Care.
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The saintly Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai reveals that the reason the Torah directs that a חטאת, a Sin-offering be slaughtered in the same exact spot as a עולה, an Elevation-offering, is out of compassion for the sinner to save him from embarrassment. People observing the bringing of the sacrifice would never know that the individual has sinned for perhaps he is merely volunteering an Elevated-offering unrelated to any sin. Despite the fact that an Elevated-offering must be a male and the Sin-offering a female, which would clearly differentiate the Sin-offering from the Elevated-offering, nevertheless, being that the sinner can opt to bring a sheep whose concealing tail would prevent any visual determination of the gender of the animal, the person’s identity as a sinner will remain protected.


This, the Rashbi teaches, is the reason we pray silently, so that sinners who confess their sins during their prayers may remain anonymous, saving themselves from public disgrace.


One though may choose to offer a she-goat as a personal Sin-offering, selecting not to hide one’s failure in having carelessly sinned that required the bringing of an atonement.


Reb Meir Simcha of Dvinsk suggests the motivation behind this choice might be due to the sinner's willingness to be publicly shamed for his having erred, displaying his remorse openly, thereby effecting a greater atonement in return. In fact, he points out, it is precisely because of this added factor that the Torah only states by the burning of the fats of the she-goat, in contradistinction to those of the sheep, how it alone will present ‘a satisfying aroma to G-d’.  


This noble option that can uniquely create a ‘satisfying aroma to G-d’ is availed only to an individual sinner, but not to the King who may have lapsed similarly. A king who inadvertently sinned has only the option to present a he-goat as atonement for his transgression. His offering will then always be disguised as a possible Elevation-offering, which may also consist of a he-goat, without any other option to demonstrate that he has erred.


Why would this opportunity be denied to a King of the nation of all people? Could you imagine the powerful message his courageously displaying his weakness and expressing his responsibility in taking ownership of his misdeeds would make in the eyes of the nation?


When a person sins there is a grave danger. One who has attained greatness and spiritual accomplishment could become so dejected in his personal failure that he will descend to depression and grievous despondency. On the other hand, one of lesser or diminished stature might never sense genuine guilt or regret, thinking erroneously, ‘who am I in G-d’s eyes that makes any difference in the greater scheme of things anyway.’


To the one who has so puny of a view of himself, G-d conveys, ‘I care about you’, encouraging the sinner to hide his failing by offering a sacrifice that, ‘no one will ever know but you and Me that you’ve sinned’, yet still leaving the option open to him to display before G-d that despite his lessened stature he is still embarrassed for what he has done and yearns to restore the relationship.


The king though, who has climbed the heights of self-perfection is in greater danger of sensing profound disappointment with himself that can leave him paralyzed from ever recovering from the fall. To him G-d turns lovingly by insisting that He will not permit the king to show his disgrace, preferring to show how much G-d still views him with great fondness as the leader of His children, not allowing his stature to ever be diminished in the people’s eyes.


This ‘boost in the arm’ to the king and the vote of confidence in his role will hopefully prevent the king from lapsing in poisonous self-flagellation and incrimination.


The portion that discusses the Sin-offering of a king begins with the description, אשר נשיא יחטא, When a ruler sins..., implying its inevitability of happening at some point and it is only a question of ‘when’.


In contrast when the Torah portrays the special Sin-offering of the כהן המשיח, the ‘anointed Kohen’ or that of the עדת ישראל, the ‘entire assembly’, the Sanhedrin, either of whom ruled mistakenly in the matter of an action that requires the bringing of an atonement, it introduces the subject with the term, אם, if , indicating its possibility, not a certainty.


The Zohar sees in this emphasis by the king, the unfortunate reality that one who holds a supreme role of authority with subjects who are all obligated to him, with the king beholden to no one other than G-d, will invariably lead to moments of lapsed self-consciousness resulting in errors of judgment and deed.


Each one of us rules our own little fiefdoms, whether it be our homes, businesses, or social circles. We stand the danger of becoming ingratiated by our ‘positions’ and flexing our muscles mindlessly.


The key to our success in not falling into these pitfalls is to remain ever aware of G-d’s presence.


The Degel Machaneh Efrayim, the grandson of the holy Baal Shem Tov, offers a magnificent interpretation of the verse regarding the sinner king in light of one of his grandfather’s teachings.


King David says, אשרי אדם לא יחשוב ד' לו עון (תהלים לב ב), Praiseworthy is the man whom G-d does not ascribe to him iniquity...


The simple reading extols the value of a man who G-d ascribes no sin to, a צדיק, a righteous man.


The Baal Shem however reads the verse creatively as praising the man who, לא יחשוב ד' לו, who considers the momentary lapses in his consciousness of G-d, עון, a sin!


In that vein the grandson expounds on our verse: אשר נשיא יחטא ועשה אחת מכל מצות ד' אלקיו אשר לא תעשינה... ואשם (ויקרא ד כב), When a ruler sins, and commits one from all the commandments of Hashem, his G-d, that may not be done... and becomes guilty, in the following manner:


אשר, praised is, נשיא, the ruler, referring to one’s heart which rules all man’s limbs, יחטא, who sins, ועשה אחת מכל מצות ד', when it takes that singular of all commands of G-d, that of  cleaving and being mindful of Him constantly, אשר לא תעשינה, considering the lapse of that consciousness, ואשם, as a sin.


If we live with that attitude we are guaranteed to get back on track. It is by that measure that man remains connected to G-d.


It will prevent us from lapsing in arrogance. It is what will buoy us when we find ourselves desperately disappointed in ourselves. It will be the lifesaver that will extend even to those who have come up short, to sense some shame in their inadequateness compelling them to return to His waiting embrace.


Timna, the mother of Amalek, who sought to enter the family of Avraham, was shunned. Rather than seeking G-d’s help and improving her character, she senses dejection and despair, seeking personal fulfillment within the family of the wicked Esav, marrying his son Elifaz.


Elifaz accepts his lowly station in life, aligning with the misguided philosophy of his evil father Esav, who senses only distance from G-d, conveniently convincing himself that G-d really doesn’t care anyway. In that world one can convince oneself that taking his Uncle Yaakov’s life is a fulfillment of honoring one’s father.


The product of that union produces an Amalek whose motto is: לא ירא אלקים, he fears not G-d, for he is incapable of believing that G-d is present and cares. He develops a shield of arrogant entitlement that would deny G-d’s beloved children the right to exist.


May we raise our consciousness of G-d’s love, concern, and appreciation for each one of us, no matter where on the stratum of His service we find ourselves, for with that belief we can conquer the forces of Amalek that seek to destroy us physically and more importantly emotionally.


באהבה,


צבי יהודה טייכמאן