by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – March 15, 2011

The Torah informs us in the Torah section of Tzav (Vayikra 6:23), “And any sin-offering from which some blood has been brought to the Tent of Meeting, to effect atonement within the Holy, shall not be eaten; it shall be burned in fire.”

With regard to this verse, the Torah great R. Meir Simcha HaKohen of Dvinsk (1843-1926) notes in his Meshekh Chochma that a regular sin-offering has its blood sprinkled on the outer altar and its meat is consumed by the kohanim (priests), whereas a sin-offering on behalf of the public or the kohen gadol or that is offered on Yom Kippur has its blood sprinkled on the inner altar and its meat is consumed completely by fire.  Why the difference?

R. Meir Simcha explains: A regular sin-offering atones for an inadvertent transgression – attributable essentially to the physical, not spiritual or intellectual side of the transgressor.  The transgressor’s mind – his thought process – does not stand behind his actions in any way.  He mistakenly performed a sin – a mistake in action.  His atonement is then appropriate on the outer altar which corresponds to man’s outer limbs and his physical side is sanctified further by the priests’ consumption of the sacrifice’s flesh.  On the other hand, the other offerings atone for erroneous rulings by the sanhedrin (supreme court) or kohen gadol or intentional sins – attributable to the spirit or intellect of the transgressor.  The transgressor’s mind fully stood behind his sinful actions.  His error in thought led to his action – with full intent to do the act.  Only later was the sinfulness of his behavior realized.  Only later, did the transgressor acknowledge that his thought was in contradiction to that of his Creator.  For such sins, atonement is appropriate on the inner altar corresponding to man’s intellect that resides in the inner recesses of his being and such a sacrifice’s flesh cannot be consumed by man.  This sacrifice’s flesh must be entirely annihilated – “burned in fire” – for erroneous thoughts, twisting of the spirit and intellect, must be entirely uprooted.

We must be totally of sound mind.  Not being so can be destructive.  Anything other than full soundness of mind must be avoided, prevented and removed.  This is the lesson that the structure of the sin-offerings teaches us.  Mistakes can happen and can be corrected.  If, however, one’s mind is not straight – if one’s thoughts are convoluted – then tremendous damage can result.  Much conflict and bloodshed has resulted throughout the history of mankind from the corrupt reasonings of dictators and tyrants.  We must remain of sound mind.  Only then can we make proper decisions.  Only then can we stay in tune with our Creator, the source of all truth, and do that which is right.