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A FURRY TALE

by Rabbi Yisrael Shaw    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

One of the offerings described in this week's Torah portion is the korban chatat, the "sin-offering," or chatat for short. A person is obligated to bring a chatat when he inadvertently transgresses a Torah prohibition which carries the punishment of karet (Divinely-executed excision from the Jewish people) if transgressed on purpose.

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One of the offerings described in this week's Torah portion is the korban chatat, the "sin-offering," or chatat for short. A person is obligated to bring a chatat when he inadvertently transgresses a Torah prohibition which carries the punishment of karet (Divinely-executed excision from the Jewish people) if transgressed on purpose.

One example is the prohibition of eating chametz (leavened food) on Passover, which is punishable with karet when committed with the intent of breaking the law. If one accidentally eats chametz on Passover, he is obligated to bring a korban chatat to atone for his sin.

When a person is obligated to bring a sin-offering, the Torah gives him a choice as to what type of animal to bring. He may bring either a goat (Leviticus 4:28) or a lamb (ibid. 4:32). In either case, the animal that he brings must be a female, unblemished, and one year old. Likewise, the procedure described by the Torah for each is the same (ibid. 4:29-31 for the goat, and ibid. 4:33-35 for the ewe).

However, there is one odd difference in the Torah's description of each type of chatat. When describing the results of successfully offering a goat-chatat, the Torah states, "And the priest atones for him, and he is forgiven" (ibid. 4:31). However, when describing the results of successfully offering a lamb- chatat, the Torah states, "And the priest atones for him for his sin which he sinned and he is forgiven" (ibid. 4:35). Why does the Torah add those few extra words "for his sin which he sinned" when discussing the atonement achieved by a lamb-chatat? It is already obvious that the atonement granted is for the sin that he committed, because that is his purpose in bringing the chatat. Furthermore, we see that there was no need to add those words when describing the exact same atonement achieved by the goat-chatat. Is there a difference in the atonement achieved by each type of animal?

A brilliant answer was proposed by Rabbi Yehoshua Leib Diskin, the 19th century Rav of Brisk, as follows: The Talmud (Tractate Sotah 32b) explains that the reason the sages enacted that we recite the Shemoneh Esrei prayer silently was in order for sinners not to be embarrassed. If we had to recite the Shemoneh Esrei aloud, one who had sinned and wanted to ask Hashem for forgiveness in his prayers would be embarrassed to do so. Therefore, the sages enacted that we pray silently to prevent such embarrassment. The Talmud proves from this week's Torah portion that protecting sinners from shame when they atone is a desirable quality. The Torah instructs that both the korban chatat (brought by a sinner to atone for his sin) and the korban olah (an offering which is not brought as a sin offering) are to be slaughtered and prepared in the same area of the Temple. That way, no one knows what his offering is for, and he is saved the embarrassment of others knowing that he sinned.

Continuing this line of reasoning, the Talmud then asks: Despite this, a person will still be embarrassed, because we know that a sin-offering must be a female animal (as the Torah says in this week's Torah portion), and a voluntary-offering must be a male animal. Hence, when people see that he is bringing a female animal, they will know that he is bringing a chatat and that he sinned. The Talmud answers that the gender of the animal is not so readily noticeable, because it is covered by the fur of the animal's tail.

The Talmud then states that that answer suffices when the sinner brings a lamb as his sin-offering, for a lamb has a very furry tail. On the other hand, when one brings a goat as his chatat, there is no fur on the tail (there is a hardly a tail at all) to cover up the gender signs, and it will be evident to all that he is bringing a sin-offering. To this the Talmud responds that indeed he will be embarrassed, but it is his own fault for choosing to bring a goat as his offering. If he really wanted to keep the purpose of his offering hidden, he would have brought a lamb, and not a goat.

There is, however, a positive element in being embarrassed about one's sin. The Talmud (Tractate Berachot 12b) says that "if a person commits a sin but is then embarrassed about what he did, then all of his sins are forgiven." Therefore, when one brings a goat-chatat, he not only gains forgiveness for the single sin for which he is bringing the offering, but he also gains forgiveness for all of his sins as well as a result of being embarrassed about the one sin that he committed for which he is bringing the goat. That embarrassment exists, though, only when he brings a goat, for the gender signs are readily noticeable. When he brings a lamb, nobody can see its gender signs and nobody knows that he is bringing a sin-offering. Therefore, he attains forgiveness only for the single sin for which he is bringing the lamb, but not for all of his other sins.

We can now understand the difference in the Torah's description of the atonement achieved by each type of sin-offering. Regarding a goat-chatat, the Torah states, "And the priest atones for him, and he is forgiven" that is, since it does not specify what he is forgiven for, it implies that he is forgiven for all of his sins. On the other hand, regarding a lamb-chatat, the Torah states, "And the priest atones for him for his sin which he sinned and he is forgiven" he is only forgiven for the single sin for which he is bringing the offering, and not for his other sins, because by bringing a lamb he avoided embarrassment.

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Rabbi Yisrael (Joseph) Shaw attended Yeshiva Atlanta, lives in Israel, and teaches Torah over the Internet at www.dafyomi.co.il

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