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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Vayikra

Parashat Vayikra

Where Does the Buck Stop?

Rabbi Yossef Carmel8 Adar II 5765
2970
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A large portion of our parasha is dedicated to the sacrifices for accidental sins brought by three types of leaders: the Kohen Gadol, Sanhedrin, and the king (Vayikra 4: 3, 13, 21). Chazal point out the positive side of the phenomenon of a sin-offering of a leader, as they derive that "fortunate is the nation whose leader brings a sin-offering on his mistake" (Tosefta Bava Kamma 7:5). Yet we cannot ignore the negative element for the nation as a whole when its leaders sin, as the p’sukim use the phrases "to the blame of the nation" (ibid.: 3) and "it is the sin of the congregation" (ibid.:21). The question is: what is the connection between the sin of the leader and the stain on the congregation?

Rashi points out that when the Kohen Gadol sins, it affects everyone, because the nation needs a properly functioning Kohen Gadol in order to achieve atonement on an ongoing basis. This raises the responsibility of the various leaders, whose success is the success of the nation. The Seforno seems to take an opposite approach. He cites the gemara (Berachot 34b) that says that when a chazzan errs during his tefilla, it is a sign that the congregation is not in good standing before Hashem. Likewise, the leader would not have made a serious mistake had the nation not been on a level that made that possible. The danger with this approach is that it seems to give the powerful members of a society, who should bear responsibility, the excuse to hide behind others and avoid blame for their own shortcomings. We will thus concentrate on the Meshech Chuchma’s explanations.

Focusing on the Kohen Gadol, the Meshech Chuchma says that the nation is unlikely to reject the actions of the Kohen Gadol, the one person who may enter the Holy of Holies and who is a revered teacher of Torah. Therefore, his accidental sin is likely to become a model for other members of the nation to sin similarly (4:21). Indeed, a leader must realize that his every action may be observed, noted, and even copied, which raises the care he needs to take to ensure that he acts properly. The Meshech Chuchma also explains (4:4) that there is a different, almost opposite type of danger, which can arise from a leader’s sin. He notes that the blood of the Kohen Gadol’s sacrifice is sprinkled on the altar that is usually reserved for incense, which is the place associated with atonement for the sin of lashon hara. This is because when the Kohen Gadol sins accidentally, cynics within society are likely to magnify matters and claim that he did so purposely. This idea is reminiscent of the gemara in Arachin (16a), in which Rav gives as an example of chillul Hashem, the prospect that someone of his stature would take meat from the butcher while putting it on credit.

Let us pray that we will merit leaders who will live up to the tremendous responsibilities the Torah places on them.

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