Why Must We Bring a Korban Chatas?

In Parashas Vayikra, the Torah introduces us to several types of offerings that were brought in the Beis Hamikdash. One of them is called a korban chatas (sin-offering), which is brought by somebody who sins inadvertently. Why does the Torah require a person to receive atonement for an action in which he did not intend to do anything wrong?

An insight into resolving this difficulty may be derived from a story about Harav Yisrael Salanter. On one of his travels, Rav Yisrael was in need of money and requested a loan from one of the local townsmen. Because the man didn’t recognize him, he was suspicious of the request and demanded collateral to avoid being swindled. Some time later, Rav Yisrael encountered that same man carrying a chicken, seeking somebody to ritually slaughter it for him. The man approached Rav Yisrael and asked if he could do so.

Rav Yisrael seized the opportunity to teach the man a lesson in priorities. He pointed out that with respect to the possibility of losing a small amount of money, the man suspected him of being a con artist who wouldn’t repay his loan, yet when it came to the risk of eating non-kosher meat if his animal wasn’t properly slaughtered, the man had no problem trusting him.

Based on this story, we can appreciate how Harav Moshe Soloveitchik answers our original question by comparing it to a person carrying glass utensils. If they are inexpensive, he won’t be very careful, and periodically some of them may fall and break. On the other hand, if they are made of fine china, he will take extraordinary precautions to ensure their safe transport.

Similarly, if a person recognized the true value of mitzvos, he would take so much care to avoid transgressing them that accidents would be unthinkable. The Brisker Rav was renowned for what some perceived as a fanatical approach toward mitzvos, constantly worrying if he had properly fulfilled his obligations. He explained that just as a person who is transporting millions of dollars in cash would constantly check his pockets to make sure that the money is still there, his mitzvos were worth millions in his eyes and he examined them constantly to make sure that he didn’t lose them.

Although a person’s transgression may have been completely devoid of intent to sin, it was his lack of recognition of the importance of the mitzvah which allowed him to slip up. It is this mistaken understanding which the Torah requires him to correct and atone for.

 Q: Why may offerings be brought from domesticated animals (1:2) but not from wild animals?

Q: An elevation-offering must be brought by its owner voluntarily (1:3). Rashi writes that if a person is obligated to bring an offering but refuses to do so, the court coerces him until he expresses his willingness. The Gemara in Menachos (73b) rules that if a non-Jew brings an elevation-offering without its associated libations, they should be offered using communal funds instead of forcing him to do so. Why isn’t a non-Jew also forced to do what he is supposed to do?

 A: The Daas Zekeinim explains that it would have required significantly more effort to track down wild animals and capture them for use as offerings. Instead, Hashem kindly commanded us to bring offerings from domesticated animals which are readily available to spare us unnecessary exertion. Rabbeinu Bechaye cites the Gemara (Bava Kama 93a) which teaches that it is better to be pursued than to be the one chasing others, and for this reason, doves are the only species of bird which may be brought as an offering, as they are the most pursued of all birds. Similarly, wild animals are disqualified because they typically pursue their prey, while domesticated animals are more likely to be pursued and may therefore be brought as offerings. The Paneiach Raza cites Rashi (Bereishis 1:22), who explains that Hashem blessed the domesticated animals that they should be fruitful and multiply but not the wild animals because the latter category includes the serpent, which enticed Adam and Chavah to sin. Because wild animals weren’t included in Hashem’s blessing, they may not be brought as offerings.

 A: Harav Tzvi Pesach Frank points out a similar case in the laws of divorce. The halachah is that a man must divorce his wife of his own volition, and a divorce which he is forced to grant is invalid. Still, the Rambam rules (Hilchos Geirushin 2:20) that there are cases in which a man is legally obligated to divorce his wife, and if he refuses to do so, the Jewish court physically strikes him until he relents. Even though such a divorce was granted under physical duress, the Rambam explains that it is still valid because the true inner desire of every Jew is to perform the mitzvos, if not for the fact that the evil inclination sometimes interferes. By hitting him, the court is weakening the power of his evil inclination until his true desire to perform the mitzvos is able to express itself, and thus, the divorce that he grants under such circumstances is considered to be given of his true will. Similarly, a Jew who is unwilling to bring the elevation-offering that he is required to offer is coerced by the court until his true “desire” to act properly is able to express itself, but as there is no such assumption that a non-Jew inherently wishes to do what is right, he cannot be forced to bring libations with his offering against his will.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.