Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Yom Kippur 5645 Second Ma'amar

The Torah states that Yom Kippur is an everlasting statute to atone for our sins, "כִּי־בַיּוֹם הַזֶּה יְכַפֵּר עֲלֵיכֶם לְטַהֵר אֶתְכֶם מִכֹּל חַטֹּאתֵיכֶם .../For on this day He shall atone for you to purify you from all your sins …" (VaYikra 16:30)  Chazal[1] teach us that the three synonyms the Torah uses for sin refer to different types of transgressions.  פֶּשַׁע refers to sins whose motivation is rebellion against God.  עָוֹן refers to sins committed with intent and חַטָאת refers to sins committed in error.  Why does this pasuk that explains the very reason for Yom Kippur refer only to those sins that are committed unwittingly?  Surely Yom Kippur atones for all types of sins.  In fact, the high priest mentions all three types of transgressions in his confessions.

We can come to an answer to this question from two ma'amarim of Reish Lakish that appear to contradict each other.[2]  Reish Lakish said that repentance is so great that it causes sins that were committed with intent to be treated as sins committed in error.  Reish Lakish also said that repentance is so great that it causes sins that were committed with intent to be treated as good deeds!  Are sins for which we repented treated as errors or as good deeds?  The Gemara answers that it depends upon how the sinner repented.  If he repented because of love of God, then even his transgressions are treated as good deeds.  If, however, he repented out of fear, then his transgressions are treated as sins that were committed in error.

The Sfas Emes explains that since the pasuk explaining the reason for Yom Kippur refers only to sins committed unwittingly, it must be that Yom Kippur atones only if we repent as well.[3]  Even the lower level of repentance causes sins to be treated as no worse than errors.  So, after repentance we are left only with sins committed in error.  The pasuk tells us that Yom Kippur atones for these.

This also explains why we say the following pasuk on Yom Kippur, "וְנִסְלַח לְכָל־עַדת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְלַגֵּר הַגָּר בְּתוֹכָם כִּי לְכָל־הָעָם בִּשְׁגָגָה/The entire community of the children of Israel and the alien residing among them shall be forgiven because the entire nation was in error." (BaMidbar 15:26)  This pasuk is referring to a korban chattas.  This type of sacrifice is brought only for transgressions committed in error.  Why then, do we mention it on Yom Kippur, seemingly out of context?

According to what the Sfas Emes has taught us though, it is clear.  We say this pasuk to express our conviction that everyone repents at least out of fear if not out of love.  Therefore, the entire nation is left only with transgressions committed in error.  For these, Yom Kippur atones.  May we merit it!

[1] Yoma 36b
[2] Yoma 86b
[3] Yoma 85a, The Mishna there states explicitly that Yom Kippur needs our repentance to atone.  However, Rebbi Yehuda HaNassi holds that Yom Kippur alone atones for our sins even if we do not repent.  Interestingly, the conclusion of the Yerushalmi on this Mishna (8:7) is that Rebbi, too, holds that Yom Kippur only atones with our repentance.

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