A good deal of this week’s Torah portion is the presentation of the sacrifices that were offered in the Temple on all the holidays—how many bulls, rams and lambs, how much fine flour, how much flour mixed with oil. How many of us today can relate to that kind of narrative? We don’t have a Temple. We don’t offer sacrifices. The very idea of animal sacrifices is difficult enough for us. And many of the offerings are the same or similar. Let’s face it; this week’s parsha is not cozy bedtime reading.
However, it is Torah, and as such demands our respect and attention to find real meaning. And not surprisingly, the more effort one makes, the more one can find gold in these passages. The thing that struck me as I reviewed these offerings this year was that there was one sacrifice that was exactly the same for all the holidays. On Rosh Chodesh, on all the days of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot, the Torah tells us: s’ir izim echad l’chatat (One he-goat for a sin offering).
What’s so unique about that? Well, these are Yom Tovim (holidays), joyous days. Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot are called moadim, “meetings” with Gd to enjoy Gd’s love. I can understand a sin offering on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur when we ask forgiveness for our sins, but why on the other holidays? Why cloud the happy spirit of these days with the remembrance of our sins?
It didn’t make much sense to me. I reviewed the commentaries, gave it some thought and this is what I came up with the help of Rashi (28:15). Why the prescription for a sin offering on these days? It is because in order to have a joyous loving meeting with Gd, we’ve got to 1st clear the air.
Let me give you an example. How many times have you gone to a family get-together and because you were upset with someone there, you didn’t have as joyous and loving a time as you might have? Imagine if every time the family got together everyone would offer to forgive everyone else—not only for the wrongs they know they did, but even for the slights they were unaware of. And that they forgave each other—not because they deserved it—but out of love…wouldn’t that make our family times really wonderful?
I think that this is, in fact, what Gd has in mind with the addition of this sin offering as we encounter Him on every Yom Tov. He wants to meet with us in love and joy—unhampered by hurts and slights. Get it out of the way; say you’re sorry; be forgiven—even for the slights you’re unaware of; and let’s move on. And if Gd can do that for us, He is telling us to do it for each other.
Let me read to you a famous story from the mystical Zohar (Miketz, as told by Jack Reimer):
A man was travelling on a hot day. He grew weary and entered a ruin and sat down to rest in the shade of a tottering wall and fell asleep. A poisonous snake crawled slowly towards him. But just as it was about to bite, an animal emerged from the ruin and killed it. When the man awoke and saw the dead snake, he rose to leave. As he walked away, the wall collapsed right on the very spot on which he had slept.
Rabbi Akiba had watched this whole thing unfold from the gateway to Lod where he was sitting, and he said to the man, “I just saw you saved from death by a miracle twice in succession. Tell me, what is your power? What are your good deeds? How is it that Gd does such wonders for you?”
The man answered, “I don’t know. I don’t think that I am so special. I am not a great scholar of Torah. In fact, I can barely read. And I am not so very observant. I do the best I can. But I do try to make peace with anyone who harms me. I become his friend and try to repay good for evil. AND before I go to sleep at night, I try to forgive all those who require forgiveness.”
Rabbi Akiba replied, “Do not belittle what you do. For you are greater than Joseph who was called, “the righteous one.” He forgave his brothers…but you forgive strangers as well. No wonder Gd loves you so much.”
My friends, it’s not easy to forgive. How do you let go of a grudge? How do you find the courage to look beyond your pain into the pain of the one who has hurt you, to see what has motivated these hurtful deeds? It’s the best way to begin the process but it’s easier said than done. But if you don’t, you give those that hurt you more power to make you miserable then they deserve.
The Ari z”l, Rabbi Isaac Luria, the mystical giant of the Middle Ages, added a new verse in his Siddur in the Evening Service which began with the verse from the Psalms (78:38), V’hu rachum y’chapeyr avon v’lo yashchit, (May Gd, in His mercy, forgive sin and not destroy). The Ari felt that he could not in good conscience say this—that he could not ask Gd to forgive him—until and unless he was willing to forgive others. And so he began the service with this additional sentence, Hareyni mocheyl l’chol adam shechata negdi hayom (I hereby forgive whoever has hurt me this day). Only when he had forgiven all those who had hurt him that day did he feel that he had the right to ask Gd to forgive him at night.
I don’t know if everyone here davens maariv every night. But let me suggest that, even if you don’t pray the evening service, that you at least consider reciting the Ari’s brief prayer every night: Hareyni mocheyl l’chol adam shechata negdi hayom (I hereby forgive whoever has hurt me this day). Do it not because the person who has hurt you deserves to be forgiven. But the person who has hurt you does not deserve the right to continue to hurt you.
Let us learn from the holiday sin offerings offer forgiveness before joyous occasions; let us learn from that man Rabbi Akiva met resting on the rock that when we let go and forgive each other Gd will take notice; and let us learn from the Ari z”l to make forgiveness a daily part of our life. Today is not Yom Kippur, but it’s always a good time to talk about forgiveness, and it’s always a good time for us to say, “I’m Sorry,” to those whom we have offended, wittingly or unwittingly, and it’s always a good time to forgive others. And do it as Gd does—not because they deserve it—but out of love.
And so, if there’s anyone in your family…or in your circle… or at your office…or in shul, with whom you are on the “outs,” you take the 1st step towards reconciliation, and for Gd’s sake, and for your own sake...make up. And remember the Ari’s fundamental principle of forgiveness: “Gd will not forgive us from on high until we forgive each other down below.” And let us make our forgiveness a korban l’chat laHashem, an offering for our sins before Gd. Amen!