Peninei Halakha

10. Defective Faith

Many offerings are meant to atone for defilement of the Temple and its sacrifices. On every Rosh Ḥodesh and festival, we are commanded to offer a goat as a sin offering for this purpose. These sin offerings atoned for one who entered the Temple or ate from sacrifices and never knew that he was tamei. It did not atone for someone who later became aware of his impurity; that was achieved by the goat offered as a sin offering on the outside altar on Yom Kippur. Even this offering, however, did not atone for one who intentionally entered the Temple or ate from an offering, knowing that he was impure. This was atoned for by the bull and goat whose blood was sprinkled in the Kodesh Ha-kodashim. The bull atoned for the kohanim, while the goat atoned for the rest of Israel.

In any case, all the communal sin offerings of goats offered on Rosh Ḥodesh and festivals atoned for defilement of the Temple and sacrifices. Thus, our Sages state:

The defilement of the Temple and its sacrifices is more severe than all the sins in the Torah. All the sins in the Torah can be forgiven with one goat (which is sent to Azazel), while the impurity of the Temple and its sacrifices requires thirty-two goats (offered on Rosh Ḥodesh, festivals, and Yom Kippur) to atone for it. Furthermore, all the sins in the Torah are atoned for once a year (through the scapegoat), while the defilement of the Temple and its sacrifices is atoned for every month, as we read, “Assuredly, as I live – said the Lord God – because you defiled My Temple with all your detestable things and all your abominations, I in turn will shear [you] away and show no pity. I in turn will show no compassion” (Yeḥezkel 5:11). Abominable and repugnant sins were bad enough, but defiling the Temple and the sacrifices was worst of all. (Tosefta, Shevu’ot 1:3)

Let us now elaborate: The sin of defiling the Temple and its sacrifices indicates defective faith, from which all other sins and abominations stem. For when a person’s faith is pure, free of any defect and imperfection, he clings to God’s attributes, and the life within him prevails. His every desire is directed toward increasing life and blessing to the world in accordance with the Torah’s guidance; his evil impulse cannot overcome him. However, when his faith is defective, there is a gap between his desires and faith, corresponding to its defects. He imagines that in order to enjoy life he must act against the Torah’s guidance; his evil impulse overpowers him, causing him to sin.

One might say that erroneous ideas about faith are akin to entering the Temple while impure. Thinking about faith is like entering sacred precincts, and when one’s understanding of faith is flawed and defective, whether because he did not study Torah properly or because of bad character, he is entering the Temple of faith while impure. If he then acts upon his mistaken beliefs, he is like someone who eats from the sacrificial meat while impure.

There are several gradations of mistaken beliefs. Generally, a person acts according to what he believes, without realizing that his faith lacks clarity. This is atoned for by the goats offered on Rosh Ḥodesh and the festivals. Sometimes, one is not aware of the contradictions and defects in his faith, but after he has acted upon them, he knows that he has not yet properly clarified his faith. He needs a more serious atonement, which is provided by the sin offering of the goat on the outer altar on Yom Kippur.

At some point, every person reaches a situation that inspires him to think about his life’s purpose, its meaning, and his mission in the world. If, despite one’s awareness that his faith lacks the proper clarity, he continues in his habits, without trying to understand Torah more deeply, to improve his character traits, and to clarify his beliefs, he is like an impure person who enters the Temple knowingly. If he continues on his familiar path, based on his defective faith, without engaging in soul-searching, he is like someone impure who eats from the sacrificial meat knowingly. This is the most terrible sin, because it leads to the destruction of his spiritual world. A divine light suddenly illuminated his soul, for a moment he entered the Temple within his soul, but instead of taking this opportunity to purify himself, clarify his faith, and redirect his life, he chose to remain impure and to continue with his routine. Therefore, only the sprinkling of the blood of the bull and the goat in the Kodesh Ha-kodashim, together with repentance, can atone for him.

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Translated By:
Series Editor: Rabbi Elli Fischer

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Editor: Nechama Unterman