This week’s Torah portion teaches that when a Jew commits a sin inadvertently, he must bring a sin-offering to atone for his violation.

Why must a Jew be taken to task for an innocent mistake? Say, for example, he kindles a fire on Saturday, not remembering that it was Shabbat. He had no intention of disobeying G‑d’s law, nor would he have done so had he remembered. Why is his behavior considered sinful and in need of atonement?

The Origin of Sin

When I was in school, I remember my friends coming to school claiming that they had forgotten their homework. (Of course, that never happened to me . . . ) I remember the way my teacher demanded to know why they so often forgot to bring their homework but never forgot to bring their pants. While the response itself was memorable, the point was well taken. We always go the extra mile to ensure that what is meaningful to us is done correctly.

Genuine commitment gives rise to circumspection about the course we choose on a given day. We double- and triple-check to ensure that all is as it needs to be. It therefore stands to reason that inadvertent sin is the product of casual indifference. Clearly, then, the responsibility for such sin lies with the sinner, and for that he must seek atonement.


The path to atonement includes reflection on the meaning infused by a mitzvah, and on the void left by sin.