May 4, 2006

Making Your Guilty Conscience Holy

By Hayley Mica Einhorn

In this week’s parashah, Tzav, the Kohanim are commanded to make a burnt offering, a meal offering, a sin offering, a guilt offering, and a sacrifice of well-being to HaShem (God). The Torah tells us that, ‘The guilt offering is like the sin-offering. The same rule applies to both: it shall belong to the priest who makes expiation thereby.’ (VaYikra/Leviticus 7:7) Despite this, the Torah describes the guilt offering in a different way than the sin offering. While the parashah describes the various procedures that are performed by the priest during the sin offering, the Torah initially describes the guilt offering as kodesh kodashim or ‘most holy’ (Vayikra 7:2) and then goes on to elaborate the specific procedure of the priests.

This distinction immediately caused me to wonder, Why does the Torah describe the guilt korban (sacrificial offering) as ‘holier’ than a sin offering?

Our intense, pressure-filled world is a ripe atmosphere for us to commit a het’ (misstep, sin) during many points in the day. We easily slip into het,’ or ‘go off course,’ when we utter a nasty remark under our breath, spread a particularly salacious piece of gossip, or exhibit stinginess to a person whose needs supersede our own.

The Torah tells us that the potential to sin is ingrained deep within us: ‘The devisings of man’s mind are evil from his youth.’ (Bereshit/Genesis 9:21) Moreover, people absorb guilt like a spoiled sponge for years. In Tzav, the word that describes guilt is ‘asham.’ If we dissect ‘asham,’ we see the word for fire, ‘aish.’ While a sin often has a limited expiration date in our memories and can easily be committed more than once, guilt, like fire, has the power to consume our hearts and minds for years. Whether it’s feeling depressed about a door that we could have opened, kicking oneself for not pursuing a romantic interest, or regretting the stinging remark that we hurled at a loved one, all of us have wished that guilt, with its crushing blow, would vanish without a trace from our lives and never return.

On this Shabbat HaGadol (The Great Shabbat, before Passover), let us remember that addressing and confronting guilt is one of the most holy mitzvot (commandments) we can perform on behalf of HaShem and ourselves. Although we cannot rewind life and change our past choices and mistakes, we can take the actions of the ancient kohanim (priests) into our own hands by using the antidotes of Kiddush HaShem (creating Divine Holiness in the world), Tefillah (prayer), Torah study, and performing mitzvot. If we perform these sacred tasks, we have the power to make our future days and the lives of our loved ones truly kadosh and can, once and for all, extinguish the fire of guilt from our souls.