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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Vayikra

The Parameters of Responsibility

Rabbi Yossef Carmel 3 NISAN 5769
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Much of our parasha deals with the korban of one who sins b’shogeg (by accident). Let’s explore one’s responsibility for accidental wrongdoings.
Chazal were clearly strict with an accidental wrongdoer in a couple of areas. One is in regard to one who damages. The mishna (Bava Kama 26a) says that one is liable to pay in full for damages that he (as opposed to his property) causes, whether he acted on purpose or accidentally, was awake or sleeping, and even if it occurred b’oness (under circumstances beyond his control). Thus, obligation for one’s own damages is nearly total. (There is a well-known machloket between Tosafot and the Ramban as to the parameters of this rule’s exceptions.)
Another area of responsibility for mistakes b’shogeg is mentioned in Pirkei Avot (4:13): "One should be careful regarding talmud, for shogeg regarding talmud is like purposeful sin." Rashi (Bava Metzia 33b) explains that this is a warning to one who paskens halacha (makes rulings). If he ruled improperly due to a mistake in learning a halachic topic, such as by not knowing the reasons behind the sources and thereby comparing matters falsely, it is as if he did so purposely because he did not ask his teachers.
The gemara (Bava Batra 21a, see Melachim I, 11:16) assumes the same idea applies to a Torah teacher. Yoav, David’s general, fought Amalek until he killed all the males. David asked him why he left the women. He answered that the Torah said to wipe out only zachar (the male of) Amalek. David corrected him that it is read zecher (the memory of) Amalek. Yoav returned to his teacher, who confirmed that he had taught Yoav, zachar. Yoav considered killing him because the responsibility of a school teacher to teach correctly makes him considered as warned that there will be consequences (such as being fired) if he makes such mistakes. This story also reminds us of the price Shaul paid for making a mistake regarding the fight against Amalek. Apparently, that matter was particularly serious because of Shaul’s reluctance to take responsibility for his mistake.
The Ramban tries to explain why, in the context of serious religious sins b’shogeg, a korban is needed for atonement. He says that sins blemish the soul so that it is not be allowed to greet its Maker unless it is purified from sin. The korban allows one to draw closer to Hashem, Who gave man his soul. As they explain in the "world of yeshivot," a Torah violation is an issur cheftza, an intrinsic problem, which must be remedied even if there was no cognitive intention to sin. On the other hand, the Netivot (234:3) says that if one violated "only" a rabbinic violation, the matter does not require atonement if this issur gavra (devolving on the person) was done without the person’s intention to rebel against religious authority.
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