by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – March 18, 2015

In the Torah portion of Vayikra (4:2-23), G-d instructs us: “If the anointed priest [kohen gadol] will sin … for his sin that he committed he shall offer a bull, a young male of cattle, unblemished, to G-d as a sin-offering.  …. If the entire assembly of Israel [the judges of the High Court, the Sanhedrin] shall err and a matter became obscured from the eyes of the congregation, and they commit one from among all the commandments of G-d that may not be done…when the sin regarding which they committed becomes known, the congregation shall offer a bull, a young male of cattle, as a sin-offering … When a ruler sins, and commits one from among all the commandments of G-d that may not be done unintentionally … If the sin that he committed became known to him, he shall bring his offering, a male goat, unblemished.”

G-d delineates in the Torah the procedure to be followed in the event that the kohen gadol (High Priest) or the judges of the Sanhedrin or a ruler of our nation unintentionally commits a serious sin.  Our Sages point out (Babylonian Talmud, Yevamot 9a, and Kritut 22b) that the sin committed is not of a light character.  The sin committed to warrant this procedure is one whose intentional violation is prohibited by a negative commandment and punished by karet [excision, understood by Rashi on Bereshit 17:14 and Vayikra 17:9 to mean premature death of the sinner and his offspring]!

It is interesting to note, though, that, whereas the kohen gadol or the Sanhedrin or the ruler require atonement for their sins through the detailed procedure delineated in the Torah and to some degree the sins of these authority figures may even mislead others to perform the same sins, we are not instructed to depose any of the above authority figures for their sins – even though the sins are of a serious nature.  In fact, throughout our history there have been much respected authority figures who have committed not insignificant errors in judgment, thereby sinning to G-d, but remained in their positions of authority after the sin.

In this day and age where it has become common to put up authority figures to a microscope, so to speak, and vilify one who has been deemed to have committed some sin and, consequently, to demand his removal from authority, the Torah is telling us that we must separate the matter of one’s sin and the individual’s position of authority.  A sin, undoubtedly, warrants correction and a form of atonement.  However, an individual who has proven himself and earned a level of authority after many years of much respected behavior, knowledge and judgment should not and ought not have that authority impugned by a given sin resulting from an error in judgment, albeit serious, committed in error.

One can extrapolate to all forms of authority.  Many of our compatriots, young and old, these days happen upon an error in judgment exercised by a parent, teacher or rabbi and, despite the very many positive and praiseworthy statements and actions that they accumulated over time which earned them a significant level of respect, become disillusioned and choose to “drop” them because of a perceived sin that was witnessed.  The Torah, on the other hand, seems to inform us otherwise.  The Torah tells us that even in the case of an individual whose level of authority is such that a sin performed by that individual, albeit unintentional, may cause serious repercussions that will lead to many others accidentally performing that serious sin, there is no automatic loss of authority after the sin.

We must properly gauge, consider and evaluate those in authority.  We must remember that authority figures are also human, and, although they should atone for sins that they commit, they need to continue to be respected for all they have done prior to their sin and all that they can continue to do after the sin.  This is what we appear to see in the aforementioned verses.  There is and there should be authority after sin.

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