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“This is the law of the sin-offering; in the place where you slaughter the elevation-offering, you shall slaughter the sin-offering, before God — it is most holy” Leviticus 6:18
Sharing with a student the section of our Torah which challenges me most, I received an unexpected response: “This may be difficult, but surely the elaborate sections about animal sacrifices are much more complex.” Indeed, the lengthy discussions of sacrifices that fill much of these weekly Torah portions are difficult to digest, but a closer look at one verse reveals a profound and eternal message.
Amid the description of altar services, this week’s sidrah turns to the subject of the sin-offering and specifies a curious location for this ritual: “In the place where you slaughter the elevation-offering, you shall slaughter the sin-offering.” Understandably, each service has its unique location and method, but the elevation-offering is known for its lofty nature.
The elevation-offering is reserved for righteous individuals and is so holy that no part is eaten by humans but rather completely dedicated to God. So why is the sin-offering, a service brought by wrong-doers, specifically located in the area dedicated for the righteous?
In his seminal work entitled Mei Hashiloach, Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Ishbitz teaches that the sin-offering is conducted in the holiest of locations because it is a symbol of change and the power of personal development. We must shatter the preconceived notion that a naturally righteous person is greater than one who repents and we remind ourselves of this by offering their sacrifices side by side.
Or, to take this a step further as taught in the Talmud: “Where a person of repentance stands, people who have never sinned cannot stand” (Berachot 34b).
So while the stories of sacrifices may be difficult to grasp at first glance, the text is filled with lessons that are relevant today, as ever. Our sidrah asks us to reshape the notions of righteousness and seek our own path of personal improvement because achieving piety is far greater than being born into it.