Beating Around the Bush – Sensitivity to Others

Any student of the Karbanot, the offerings that serve as the central feature of the ancient Holy Temple rituals, knows that they are governed by a host of different procedures, regulations, and detailed laws.  One such law is the location of an offering’s slaughter.  If not performed in a particular location on the Temple floor plan, it could be rendered invalid.  The Torah lays out these locations for the various offerings, but it states the requisite slaughter location of one particular offering in a peculiar way.  Instead of directly specifying where a sin offering must be slaughtered, the Torah gives an analogy to another offering.  “In the place that an Olah offering is slaughtered, the sin offering should be slaughtered, before the Lord – it is most holy” (Vayikra 6:18).  The Olah is slaughtered on the North side of the Alter (ibid. 1:11).  Why doesn’t the Torah state outright, as it does regarding the Olah and all other non-sin Karbanot, that the sin offering is slaughtered on the North side of the Alter?

The Jerusalem Talmud understands this anomaly as sensitivity to the feelings of the repentant.  “Why is it slaughtered in the same place?  It is in order to prevent publicizing the sinners” (Yevamot 8:3).  According to Rashi (1040 – 1105), the Olah is a voluntary offering that has no connection to sin (Vayikra 1:2).  By requiring the sin offering to be slaughtered in the same location as the Olah, the Torah can prevent, to some extent, the potential embarrassment resulting from onlookers noticing that someone sinned.  Now when someone witnesses an offering being slaughtered to the North of the Alter, they won’t be able to tell if it’s a voluntary Olah or obligatory sin offering.

The great sage Hillel agreed to teach the entire Torah to the prospective convert that was standing on one foot, and that forced him to encapsulate all of its teachings into one very brief lesson (Shabbat 31a).  He taught:  “What you hate, don’t do to your friend; the rest of the Torah is all commentary explaining that one principle, now go study it!”  Recognizing the significance of the indirect analogy teaching the location of the sin-offering’s slaughter is one more opportunity to internalize the main message of the Torah, that sensitivity to others’ feelings and honor – even sinners –  must be foremost in our minds and actions.

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