Friday, March 14, 2014

Parashat Tzav - Inadvertent sins

Shabbat Shalom. This week’s Torah portion is Parashat Tzav. Last week, in Vayikra, Moses is told to speak to the whole community of the Israelites to explain the sacrifices, what they are for, what the people should bring forth for which sin, etc. This week, Moses is told to speak to Aaron and his sons, because only they need to know the proper way to actually go about performing the sacrificial rites. The Torah portion, much like last week’s, goes through each type of offering, and is repetitive and kind of gross. Finally, after all the instructions are given to Aaron and his sons, Moses pours oil over the altar and the priests to anoint them, to make them spiritually and ritually ready to begin the sacrificing. Curiously, before the sacrifice for ordination, before blood is smeared on Aaron and his sons to officially ordain them and their progeny for years to come as priests, Aaron’s first sacrifice is that of a sin offering.
            I think I like what this says about humanity. The sin offering, unlike the guilt offering, was for inadvertent sins. No matter how hard we try to be our best selves, we will inevitably miss the mark sometimes. Indeed, that is actually what “sin” means in Judaism – missing the mark. It’s not so much that you did something horrible or wrong or unforgiveable, but that you just didn’t quite get yourself where you were meant to be in some way. Sometimes, we might realize after the fact that we did something wrong and have a chance to really make it right. More often, though, probably we’ll never really know. Maybe you didn’t realize the thing you were doing was sinful, or maybe you did something so absent-mindedly that you didn’t even realize you did it.
Personally, I tend to replay situations over and over in my head and then worry about how other people might have read my tone and wonder if I absent mindedly missed the mark in that social situation. When I worked in a restaurant, we didn’t really do delivery, but sometimes my boss would send me to bring orders to local regulars while they worked. Once I ran next door to a clothing store to bring dinner to the cashier. I didn’t think to bring any cash with me for change, as it had never been necessary before. She handed me some amount of money that seemed like too much (I don’t remember how much now), and didn’t ask for change or anything. So I said, “Is that all?” meaning, is that all for this transaction or would you like me to run back with some change? She nodded and I walked away. After I had gotten back to the restaurant, it occurred to me, “Oh man, what if that sounded like I was asking is this was all I was getting for tip?! Now she thinks I’m stupid and greedy and maybe I made her feel bad, when it’s actually such a good tip I thought she should want change! What do I do to fix this? I don’t know if I even did anything wrong but it feels like maybe I did! Ahhh!” I don’t know if everyone does that, though, so maybe you’d be even less aware if you had inadvertently sinned.
            G-d understands. That is why Aaron was led to sacrifice the inadvertent sin offering first. Maybe his head was similarly filled with all the uncertainties of his day, how people heard what he said, how he could have been clearer, better. Maybe he was worried that those uncertainties could have been sins, and maybe he was worried he wasn’t pure enough to be ordained as High Priest. Maybe none of that, but G-d knew that Aaron had done some things that he wasn’t even aware of that made him not quite pure enough yet to be High Priest. So the first step in this ordination it the sin-offering, a wiping clean of the slate.
            You know, of course, we know longer sacrifice animals. Instead we pray. We pray that our words have been heard the way we intended them, and we pray that we always intend them for good. We pray that we can be self-aware and try our best in life, and that we have good people around to help set us right if we unknowingly miss the mark. We pray that G-d sees the good intentions of our hearts and not the mistakes in our deeds. We pray that G-d help us not make the mistakes in our deeds. May all these prayers come true, for all of us. Amen and Shabbat Shalom.

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