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Va-Yakhel-Pekudey 5769

Parshat Vayakhel-Pekudei/Hahodesh
(Ezekiel 45:16 – 16:18)
25 Adar 5769
March 21, 2009

Much has been written about the discrepancies between the sacrificial order as found in the Torah and as it is found in the book of Ezekiel. In fact, the Talmud credits a certain sage, Hanina ben Hezekiah, with saving the book of Ezekiel by reconciling these inconsistencies. (See Menachot 45a) One of the Ezekiel\’s marked innovations involved certain expiatory rites set up at the beginning of the first month, what we call the month of Nisan, the month containing Pesach: \”Thus said the Lord God: On the first day of the month, you shall take a bull of the herd without blemish, and you shall cleanse the Sanctuary…You shall do the same on the seventh day of the month, to purge the Temple of uncleanness caused by unwitting or ignorant people (shogeh u\’feti).\” (45:18; 20)

In a previous posting (5767), I discussed the Talmud\’s resolution of the difference between these two expiatory sacrifices just seven days apart. This year, I would like to focus on the interpretations of a number of other commentators who attempt to account for the reason this expiation needed to be done twice. These commentators focus on the words \”shogeh\” and \”peti\” found in verse 20. Rabbi Yitchak Abrabanel (15th century Spain) was the first to take on this line of interpretation. He asserted that the second sacrifices were necessary to expiate for those who, in their rejoicing, accidentally entered into forbidden precincts of the Temple.

Rabbi David Altschuler (18th century Galicia), the author of the Metzudat David and Metzudat Zion commentaries, assigned specific definitions to the terms \”shogeh\” and \”peti\”. A \”shogeh\” is someone who errs or sins unintentionally while a \”peti\” is someone who errs out of foolishness. Rabbi Meir Malbim (19th century Russia) defined a \”shogeh\” as someone who misunderstood teachings and consequently erred. He also distinguished between the reason for the second sacrifice and that noted in the first verse. He claims that the first verse deals with atonement for intentional (mazid) sins while the second was for unintentional sins.

Professor Rimon Kasher (20-21st century Israel) asserts that the first sacrifice was intended as expiation for communal sins and errors while the second sacrifice was meant to atone for those who might have been unaware that they had sinned when the first sacrifice was offered. He defines a \”shogeh\” as one who sins unintentionally and a \”peti\” as someone who sinned because of lack of knowledge. (Ezekiel, Mikra L\’Yisrael p. 889)

It should be clear from this presentation that the tradition does not view lack of intention, lack of knowledge or foolishness as excuses for avoiding responsibility. We have to be aware that when we do something wrong, even unintentionally, it becomes an unavoidable part of who we are. When there is awareness of this, there is the possibility for a cure, renewal and purity.

About This Commentary

This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in  Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva.  He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

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