Weekly Torah Portion: Sin and Guilt Offerings
Two more types of offerings are discussed in this week’s portion, and they are intimately related. To begin with, they are both mandatory offerings, required under specific circumstances. The circumstances in both types of offerings are also that of transgression of God’s laws.
Sin offerings are required when an individual commits a sin against God unintentionally. The text delineates different sin offerings for different people: a bull for the priest or the elders, a he-goat for the ruler and a she-goat or female lamb for an individual who sins. The sinner must place his hands upon the animal as it is slaughtered. Its blood is dabbed on the horns of the incense altar, and what remains is poured on the base of the sacrificial altar. In the case of the bull-offerings, the blood is also sprinkled towards the curtain of the Holy of Holies. The innards of the animal are then burnt upon the altar, and in some cases, the entire animal is then burned outside the camp. Thus the sinner is granted forgiveness.
The Israel Bible points out that the elders are required to bring their sin offering for cases where the entire community sins due to a mistaken ruling. This reinforces the unity of the nation, demonstrating that the members of the community are collectively responsible for one another.
In some cases, such as contact with spiritually contaminated objects or inadvertently broken vows, the precise make-up of the sin offering varies according to the means of the sinner. A wealthy man brings a female sheep or goat, a poorer individual may bring a bird, while a truly destitute person can bring a grain offering.
The guilt offerings are set for specific transgressions: violating the sanctity of God’s altar, breach of trust, or when a person is unsure whether he has sinned or which sin he has committed. The guilt offering consists of an unblemished ram whose value must suit the transgression. In all cases where the transgression involved actual theft, restitution must be made and a fifth must be added to the value of what was stolen, before the guilt offering can provide expiation.
Among the violations for which one must bring a sin or guilt offering are unfulfilled or false vows. The Israel Bible points out, this is so significant that the Yom Kippur prayer service begins with a prayer to nullify any oaths we may have made or will make so that they are not broken. This teaches us how important it is to be careful with our speech.