Monday, April 2, 2012

The Merciful Justice of Korbanos

I just saw an amazing Ohr Hachaim on this week's parsha.

He brings down a Yerushalmi in Makos (2:6) on the pasuk (Vayikra 9:8), "va'yikrav Aharon el hamizbeach," which can be read "and Aharon approached the alter" or, alternatively, as "And Aharon was sacrificed on the alter." The Gemara explains that according to the attribute of justice, one who commits any sin deserves death. In Hashem's mercy, He permits us to offer a sacrifice instead. While doing so, one should think that everything that is being done to the animal (slaughter, burning, etc.) should really be done to him. This thought is what atones for the person when he brings a sacrifice.

The Ohr Hachaim points out, though, based on the Tanchuma in Shoftim and the Yerushalmi in Shekalim (5:1) that Hashem swore to conduct the world according to justice (as opposed to mercy) and that no one can say that Hashem will overlook his transgressions. Based on these sources, if sacrifices represent a departure from justice and a reliance on mercy, how can a just G-d permit someone deserving of death because of his sins to get "off the hook" by putting an animal in his place?

He answers that in reality, when a sinner brings an animal sacrifice in lieu of his own life, this is also justice. He quotes the Gemara in Sota (3a) that "A person does not commit a sin [unless he is filled with a spirit of impurity]" Reading the Gemara al derech drush, he says that it teaches that a "person" doesn't commit a sin. One who sins descends to the level of an animal, presumably because he allows his animalistic soul (nefesh habahamis) to rule his life during that time. One who does teshuva, however, regains the status of a person.

Therefore, would be fitting for a man be killed because of the sins of an animal? Certainly not. The person therefore brings an animal on the alter because it is the closest approximation of the aspect of himself that committed the sin. So in the end, bringing a korban is proper according to justice as well as mercy.


No comments: