By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
5 Nisan 5764 - March 26, 2004
One class of sacrifices is the chatat, the sin-offering. First the Torah
tell us the general criteria obligating a chatat:
And Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying: Speak to the Children of Israel, saying, “A
soul that sins unintentionally (BISHGAGAH), among any of the commandments of
Hashem which shall not be done, and he commits one of these” (Vayikra 4:1-2).
From this we derive that a chatat is required:
If the sin was done in error (unintentionally).
For each commandment transgressed (among any of the commandments of Hashem).
For negative commandments that involve action, rather than speech (which shall
not be done and he commits one of these).
Furthermore, only those sins that, had they been violated intentionally, carry
a penalty of death-from-Heaven (karet), obligate a chatat if committed
unintentionally, unless the Torah prescribes a different sacrifice. Rambam
(Laws of Unintentional Sins, Chapter 1) enumerates 43 sins (23 of which
concern sexual offenses) that necessitate a chatat.
The Torah then differentiates between chataot, based on the status of the one
who committed the unintentional sin. There are four classifications:
If the anointed Kohen will sin to the guilt of the people, then he shall
offer, for his sin that he committed, an unblemished bull to Hashem as a sin
offering (v.3). …
And if all the community of Israel shall err (YISHGU), that a matter be hidden
from the eyes of the congregation and they commit one of all the commandments
of Hashem, which shall not be done, and they are guilty [this refers to the
Sanhedrin giving an erroneous ruling and the people act accordingly]. And the
sin that they committed becomes known; then the congregation shall offer a
bull as a sin-offering, and they shall bring it before the Tent of Meeting
When a ruler sins, and commits one from among all the commandments of Hashem
that may not be done - unintentionally (BISHGAGAH) - and becomes guilty; or
the sin that he committed became known to him, then he shall bring his
sacrifice, an unblemished male goat (vs.22-23). …
And if an individual soul from among the people of the land sins
unintentionally (BISHGAGAH), by committing one of the commandments of Hashem
that may not be done, and he becomes guilty; or the sin that he committed
becomes known to him, then he shall bring his sacrifice, an unblemished female
goat, for the sin that he committed (vs.27-28). … If he shall bring a sheep as
his sacrifice for a sin- offering, he shall bring an unblemished female
The exception to this is idolatry, which has its own sacrifice (see Bamidbar
In enumerating the mitzvot, Rambam (Sefer HaMitzvot, introductory principle 7,
“Not to count the details of the mitzvot separately”) explains that there is
one mitzvah (positive § 69) regarding all individuals who commit a sin
unintentionally, and a separate mitzvah (positive § 68) regarding the
The Torah’s order of these four classifications is striking. Clearly, the
Torah places the leadership of the people before the layman, as Nehama
“Since the greater the man, the greater his responsibility, each negligence,
each slip of the mind, each indiscretion, each error on his part, borders on
willful transgression. That is why we find a sliding scale of sin-offerings
corresponding to the status of the person or body bringing it.”
However, what is the reason for the order among the leaders? Why does a group,
the Sanhedrin, separate the two individuals mentioned, the Kohen Gadol and the
Sforno argues that the sins are listed in descending order of likelihood. In
general, worthy leaders sin only because of the iniquity of the people, along
the lines of:
“If one errs in his prayer, it is a bad sign for him; and if he is a prayer
leader (shaliach tzibbur), it is a bad sign for those who sent him” (Berachot
The holiness and learning of the Kohen Gadol will usually keep him from even
unintentional sins. And the ruler is listed last, because his very position of
power makes him the most likely among leaders to sin.
Another approach is evident in Malbim, who differentiates between two words
SH-G-G (BISHGAGAH) means an error in deed; for example, the person made a
fire, thinking it was a weekday, and subsequently learned that it was Shabbat.
SH-G-H (YISHGU) means an error in judgment; for example, the person made a
fire on Shabbat, unaware that it is forbidden, and then learns about the
The passage opens with the criteria that apply in all four cases, including
BISHGAGAH, that the sin was committed through an error in deed. The Torah
repeats BISHGAGAH for the ruler and the layman, because theirs are,
unquestionably, errors in deed. The error of the Sanhedrin (YISHGU), in
contrast, is a mistaken legal ruling, which the people follow.
The error of the Kohen Gadol is also an error in judgment. He offers the
specified sacrifice only if he is a sage worthy of rendering decisions
(because he is equated with the Sanhedrin in Horayot 6b-7a), and he makes a
mistaken ruling regarding himself and then acts accordingly. However, if his
is an error of action, then he brings no sacrifice (Rambam, Laws of
Unintentional Sins, 15:1-2).
Along the same lines, despite Rambam’s division of the Sanhedrin from
individuals, Minchat Chinuch considers the chatat of the Kohen Gadol as part
of the discussion about the Sanhedrin erring (§ 120), rather than in the
discussion of individuals. The ruler is considered in the context of the
individuals (§ 121).
By placing the Kohen Gadol apart from the ruler, and together with the
Sanhedrin, the Torah communicates the unique status of the Kohen Gadol: he is
more like the community than he is an individual.
In his person, even more so than the political ruler, the Kohen Gadol embodies
and reflects the entire people of Israel.
Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!"- Torah from Aloh Na'aleh*
In Parshat Vayikra, we read of the
sacrifice known as the Par He’elem Davar shel Tzibbur. This sacrifice is
brought when “Kol Adat Yisrael - the entire congregation of Israel,”
unintentionally violates a prohibition as a result of a mistaken ruling of
the Sanhedrin. This sacrifice is only brought if the intentional violation
of the prohibition would have been punishable by karet (severing of the
individual from the nation in one or another way).
There is a lengthy discussion in tractate Horayot regarding the definition
of “the entire congregation of Israel.” One of the questions raised
relates to the way and extent to which each of the twelve tribes must be
represented in order to qualify as “the entire congregation of Israel.”
Basing himself on a verse in Melachim, Rabbi Asi (Horayot 3:A) maintains
that only Jews residing in the land of Israel are taken into account with
respect to the Par He’elem Davar shel Tzibbur. While the Talmud cites this
position only in Rabbi Asi’s name, there is no dissenting opinion, and the
Rambam records it as Halachah in the laws of Shegagot 13:2.
In effect, Rabbi Asi and the Rambam are saying that while every Jew
anywhere in the world is part of the Jewish nation, when it comes to
quantifying the Jewish people, it is only those who live in Eretz Yisrael
who count! The Rambam states this as a general rule in his commentary to
Bechorot 4:3: “For it is the Jews of Eretz Yisrael who are called the
congregation. God calls them a ‘congregation,’ even when they are only ten
in number. None of those living outside of Israel are taken into
consideration.” The Rambam uses this principle to explain why in certain
Halachic areas, only a court ordained in Eretz Yisrael is qualified to
render a ruling, and why the Jewish calendar can only be determined by
Jews living in Eretz Yisrael (see Sefer Hamitzvot, positive precept 153;
Hilchot Kiddush Hachodesh 5:1, 2, 13).
All Jews are part of the Jewish nation. But it is the Jews living in
Israel who are authorized to represent the Jewish nation as a whole.
Rabbi Menachem Shrader
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North American Rabbis and laymen who successfully
made Aliyah, aimed at highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting
Aliyah. They send emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on
speaking-tours throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Tel: 972-2-566-1181 ext. 320