“The whole community came forward and stood before the Lord” Leviticus 9:5

By Dr Erica Brown, April 19, 2012

In the midst of verses about sacrifices and kosher and non-kosher animals, we find this incredible expression of unity and solidarity. When Aaron brought a collective sin offering, "the whole community came forward and stood before the Lord". Perhaps there is no other verse in the Torah that presents this expression of communal regret and communal accountability.

We do not have a collective sin offering today. Although the language of our High Holy Day prayers is written in the plural, it is almost always used to express the singular disappointments and frustrations of a lone penitent. "For the sin which we have sinned" through derision, scorn, gossip and trivialising parents and teachers becomes our personal statement of sin. We mention these sins in whispered privacy even as we stand among family, friends and neighbours.

Although we have offerings brought by individuals in our ancient worship, we also had collective sin offerings. We had to reflect as an entire community on our joint mistakes. Today, were we to bring a collective sin offering for high-profile Jewish white-collar criminals, the offering would be very heavy indeed. We might add to our ethical mishaps, our failure to solve problems like the high cost of Jewish living or our lack of warmth and friendliness as a people or the fact that we have so few good Jewish leaders.

With the loss of the Tabernacle and then the Temple, we have lost precious opportunities to express joy as a community and collective regret. Because you cannot be a Jew alone, you cannot take accountability alone. Sometimes we must face together what we do wrong so that we can right it. That's precisely when the whole community must come forward and stand before God.

Last updated: 10:22am, April 26 2012