Sins of Greatness
This week the Torah teaches us about sins and offerings. It tells us about
how a human is supposed to respond to misdeeds. It tells us about all types
of people who make mistakes and sin. High Priests and princes as well as
simple Jews are subject to failures and so, in addition to penitence, each
sinner on every level must bring an offering.
When referring to the average sinner the Torah teaches the halacha by
beginning the laws with the words, "If a man shall sin" or "when a man shall
sin." It uses the Hebrew word "im," (Leviticus 4:27) or "ki" (Leviticus
5:21). However when it comes to "a prince amongst the tribes" who is the
sinner, the Torah uses a different expression. It does not use the standard
words for if and when, rather it uses a totally different expression
"Asher nasi yecheta -- if that a prince sins, and commits one from among all
the commandments of Hashem that may not be done -- unintentionally -- and
becomes guilty" (Leviticus 4:22).
The word asher, is quite similar in fact to the word "ashre," It means
praiseworthy. That point is not lost on the Talmudic sages. Rashi quotes the
Sifra, "If that a prince hath sinned: The word "Asher" is connected in
meaning with "Ashrei" which means praiseworthy. The verse implies the
following connotation: Praiseworthy and fortunate is the generation whose
prince (king) takes care to bring an atonement sacrifice even for his
That is surely praiseworthy, especially to those of us who live in a
generation pock-marked with scandals of denials and cover-ups. But if that
is the case, why not use the term “asher” in reference to the bringing of
his pertinence, not referring to the sin itself? Isn't it the admission of
guilt that merits praise, not the actual misdeed?
There are many variations to this story. The basic premise, however, is
In the city of B'nai Beraq there are many Bar Mitzvah celebrations every
Shabbos. It became very difficult for Rav Yaakov Yisrael Kanievski, the
elder sage known to world Jewry as the Steipler Gaon to attend every Bar
Mitzvah. In fact, he was old and weak and hardly had the strength to go to
shul. One week, a Bar Mitzvah boy was honored with the maftir. Immediately
after the davening, the Steipler Gaon was standing there in line, waiting
to wish him Mazal Tov.
The Steipler Gaon bent down and began conversing in earnest with the
neophyte member of the adult Jewish community. It seemed to the hushed
crowd that this was much more than a perfunctory Mazel Tov wish.
The boy paled as he shook his head several times in amazement. "Of course,
Rebbe!" he exclaimed. "Of course! There is no question. I feel terrible
that the Rebbe felt he had to discuss this with me!"
The Steipler thanked the young boy, wished him Mazel Tov again, blessed him,
and left the shul.
The entire congregation was shocked. What could the Steipler have wanted?
"Let me explain," began the boy. "Six years ago I was davening in this shul
with a very large siddur (prayer book). The Steipler approached me and
chided me for learning Gemara in the middle of the Tefilah. I showed him
that it was a Siddur and that I actually was davening. He apologized and
Today the Steipler came to my Bar Mitzvah and reminded me of the story. He
explained to me that even though he apologized for his mistaken reprimand
six years ago, it was not enough. Since, at the time, I was a child under
Bar Mitzvah, I did not have the frame of mind to truly forgive him. Even if
I did forgive him, it had no halachic validity. The Steipler found out when
my birthday was and waited for six years until my Bar Mitzvah. Today, I am
halachically old enough to forgive him, and so, he came back today to ask my
Sometimes the praise of our leaders is not the fact that they bring a sin
offering, but rather in the entire sin and absolution process. It is
important for us to understand, not only that they ask forgiveness, but what
they did wrong and how they rectified their misdeed. We are praiseworthy
when we have leaders that understand what is considered wrong, and openly
teach us through their actions how to respond. When the process is
comprehensive, then the combination of the mistake and the absolution can be
considered praiseworthy, for they are acts we can all learn from.
Dedicated by Ira & Gisele Beer in memory of Harry Beer and Tillie Beer
R' Tzvi Mendel ben R' Pinchus
Chaya Yova Bas R' Eliyahu
Copyright © 2002 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
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The author is the Associate Dean of the
Yeshiva of South Shore.
Drasha is the e-mail edition of FaxHomily, a weekly torah facsimile on the weekly portion which is sponsored by The Henry and Myrtle Hirsch Foundation