The Torah spends a significant amount of time detailing the decorative garments and adornments that the Kohen Gadol, or High Priest, would wear for performing his special duties in the Beit Hamikdash. In the section describing the head plate, or Tzitz, that he would wear, the Torah explains that this adornment had much more than a mere aesthetic value; this Tzitz would actually, surprisingly, serve as an integral element of the Children of Israel’s attainment of forgiveness for sins that involved carelessness in Temple rituals. What’s noteworthy is the word that the Torah uses when it refers to this forgiveness. “[The Tzitz] shall be on Aaron’s forehead so that Aaron shall bring forgiveness for a sin regarding the sacred offerings” (Shemot 28). The Hebrew word used for forgiveness is “nassah,” which normally means “carry.” An axiomatic rule of Hebrew grammar is that all permutations of the same three-letter root are co-related and share a common or at least related meaning. In this case, the act of carrying and the concept of attaining forgiveness for sins seemingly couldn’t be more disparate and unrelated! How can the Torah use the word nassah to denote forgiveness?
Rashi (1040 – 1105) picks up on this difficulty and explains that nassah really means carry even here. What is unique about its use here, though, is that it is used metaphorically instead of literally. The Kohen Gadol attains forgiveness by carrying something away. He carries away a metaphoric load of sins; once this burden is pulled off of the place of its origin, that is, from upon the backs of the people that perpetrated the sins, forgiveness has been attained. The two meanings of the word nassah actually do have the same basic meaning, and the grammatical rule is upheld.
An instructional idea emerges from the Torah’s use of a burden as a metaphor for sin. I once went on a hiking trip for an extended period, and all of our food and equipment had to be carried in our backpacks. The first day was the worst. One problem was that our bodies were not used to hiking with a pack. But another problem was the burden we were carrying which is heaviest in the beginning before any of the food supplies are consumed. I vividly recall barely being able to walk, and keeping up with the group’s quick pace seemed impossible. People often seem to feel like sins, faulty character traits, and unhealthy paradigms can be lived with and tolerated. “When I get around to it,” we think to ourselves, “I will iron out those areas of life in which I’m rough around the edges.” Even when we are aware of shortcomings that need to be rectified, we seem to be able to just continue on indefinitely and are happy to allow our lives to distract us from ever actually getting around to it. The Torah’s use of the word nassah informs us that this is not recommended. Sins and character deficiencies must be related to as heavy tonnage that forcefully bears down on our shoulders and threatens to drive us deep into the earth. Even though we cannot feel this physically, their massive load stymies us mentally, emotionally and spiritually and stops us from moving forward in our relationships, personal development, and our lives. A backpack can slip right off and free a hiker to be able to walk normally again, whereas ridding ourselves from spiritual and emotional baggage and personal inadequacies is an immeasurably more difficult and arduous process. But once we are able to successfully break loose of this burden, we will finally be liberated to move more deftly and effectively through life.