Office of the Chief Rabbi

D’var Torah: Parashat Tzav

Parashat Tzav provides a window onto one of the most intriguing sacrificial customs in the Temple – the practice of presenting both the Olah (Burnt) and the Chatat (Sin) offerings on the same part of the Altar, despite their having entirely opposite functions. The Chief Rabbi explains this curious pairing by suggesting that the Korbanot represent stages in an individual’s progress as they draw on past mistakes to ensure future successes. The full transcript appears below.

In this week’s parashah of Tzav, we are introduced to the Korban Olah, the burnt offering and the Korban Chatat, the sin offering. The Torah tells us Bimcom asher tischat ha’ola tishchat ha’chatat. These two offerings were to be brought on the identical place, the northernmost part of the altar.

And this seems to be quite remarkable, because surely the sin offering and the burnt offering were polar opposites? The Olah, as its name suggests, enabled a person to elevate himself or herself to reach great spiritual heights. The Chatat however was a sin offering, brought by those who had erred in their ways. We learn about the Chatat, this term, from the world of archery. Lehachtiat Hamatara means to miss the target. The person who brought a Chatat was somebody who had misplaced priorities, who didn’t just ‘get it’ and as a result had failings and performed many sins.

“sometimes the Chatat paves the way towards achieving the Olah”

So why have the sin offering and the burnt offering brought on the same place? I’d like to suggest that the reason is, sometimes we can enable the Chatat to pave the way towards achieving the Olah. What do I mean? Henry Ford’s first businesses in the motorcar industry were total failures, but he learned his lessons from those weaknesses in order to establish himself as the all-time household name when it comes to the motor car industry. Bill Gates started a company which he called Traf-o-data. Who’s heard of that? Gates would prefer us to forget about it. But actually, because it was a failed business, Gates learnt from his mistakes and he applied his lessons to the success of Microsoft. That’s what the Chatat is about.

At the commencement of our Kol Nidre service, we start the Fast of Yom Kippur by declaring Anu Matirin L’hitpalel im ha’avaryanim – ‘All sinners are welcome in shul’. And that applies really to all of us, because we realise that if we learn the lessons of our sins of the previous year, we can establish ourselves as tzadikim, as upright people, for the year that will follow.

“we are able to move forward, not despite our failings but because of them”

Similarly at the seder table, the rasha, the child who is the sinner, is welcomed around our table because we recognise that that child, if he or she learns from their lessons, will be able to transform themselves into a chacham, a wise and upright child during the year that will follow.

And this is what we learn in regard to the Chatat. We are able to move forward, not despite our failings but because of them. If we recognise where we went wrong and if we also learn from the failings and the sins of others, we can utilise that awareness in order to pave the way for future success. The Chatat and the Olah are to be sacrificed on one and the same place. Because if we achieve our objectives, it will be but a short step from Chatat to Olah; from the depths of failure, to the incredible heights of remarkable success. Shabbat Shalom.

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