In this week’s Torah reading we commence the study of the book of Leviticus, which teaches us about the kohanim. The first part of this Torah section describes in vivid details the rules and procedures for the various animal sacrifices as well as the meal or flour offerings. Since the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, we no longer engage in these ritualistic practices and therefore prayer has taken the place of these various offerings. Some maintain that even in messianic times prayer will replace sacrifice.
One of the many sacrifices mentioned in this week’s Sidra is the “goat of the leader.” This special offering applied only to the ruler and required that a goat be slaughtered on the altar.
When the Torah discusses this unique sacrifice it begins with the phrase “when a ruler sins.” The other chapters of the Torah portion do not begin with the word “when” but “if” a person sins. All the other chapters do not assume that an individual must sin — that is why it mentions that only “if” a person sins they must bring an offering as atonement. The commentaries explain the different language applicable to a king because powerful and wealthy people have much greater chances, reasons and opportunities to sin.
Rashi informs us that the word “asher” (or “when”), applied to the king, is similar to the Hebrew word “ashrei” (or “fortunate”). This play on words indicated that a community whose leader his wrong and confesses his sins is a lucky generation and considered blessed to have such a leader.
I wish that our leaders would admit their mistakes and learn from this Torah portion the proper way to govern a nation whether those representatives are Republican, Democrats or anywhere in between.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)