Among the sacrifices mentioned in this Torah reading is the conditional guilt-offering. A sin-offering is brought when one definitely knows that he has committed an inadvertent sin. A conditional guilt-offering, however, is brought when one is in doubt whether in fact he committed a transgression. Significantly, the conditional guilt-offering is many times more expensive than the sin-offering.

In the works of the Rabbis, the following explanation is given: Fundamentally, the atonement brought about by a sacrifice comes from the person’s feelings of teshuvah. When a person knows he has sinned, he is naturally aroused to sincere feelings of regret. But when a person is unsure whether or not he sinned, he has to seek external means to inspire such feelings of teshuvah. For this reason, the conditional guilt-offering cost more than a sin-offering.

This rationale is, however, insufficient. For although teshuvah is necessary, it is not the only element involved. The actual offering of the sacrifice in and of itself serves as a powerful catalyst to bring atonement and remove the blemishes created by sin. The different kinds of sacrifices were ordained according to the nature of the blemish a person’s sins created within his soul.

This leads to the conclusion that the reason a conditional guilt-offering cost more than a sin-offering was not merely to inspire sincere teshuvah, but also because a conditional guilt-offering must atone for a greater blemish. This raises a question: Why is the blemish created when one is unsure of one’s guilt greater than that created when one is certain that he sinned?

This question can be resolved as follows: In general, sacrifices atone for sins committed unintentionally, for even a commandment violated unknowingly requires atonement. Although the person did not intentionally sin, the fact that his unconscious thoughts led to such behavior is an indication that he is spiritually lacking. For if he was not lacking, he would not have sinned, even unintentionally, as it is written: “No evil shall befall the righteous.”

This reflects a further point. A person’s unconscious behavior — what he does without thinking — is often a powerful indicator of his nature, reflecting his fundamental concerns and sources of pleasure. A righteous manderives pleasure from G‑dliness; therefore his deeds involve goodness and holiness. When, by contrast, a person unknowingly commits a sin, this indicates that undesirable factors are his source of pleasure. His conduct is like a Freudian slip indicating where his inner desire for pleasure lies.

Building on the above concepts: When a person knows he has committed a sin unwittingly, he realizes that he is in need of spiritual improvement; the transgression makes him aware of an inner involvement with evil. But when a person is not definitely aware that he has sinned, his positive self-image can remain intact and he may not appreciate the need for change. This shows an even deeper connection with evil, for the person does not even realize something is amiss.

When a person knows he has unwittingly committed a transgression, his fundamental nature remains good; the deed runs contrary to his true self. For this reason, he is conscious that he has transgressed G‑d’s will. He senses the evil within his act, and realizes that this is not who he really is. When, however, a person does not realize that he has committed a transgression, this is a sign that the sin does not disturb him; it does not run contrary to his tendencies. For this reason, he does not even notice the sin. This is truly a severe internal blemish.

So when a person does not know whether or not he has committed a sin, he must bring a conditional guilt-offering — a sacrifice which is much more expensive than a sin-offering. For the conditional guilt-offering must correct the deeper spiritual insensitivity that prevents him from being aware of his faults.

Looking to the Horizon

This Torah reading begins: “And G‑d called to Moses and G‑d spoke to him.” Now we often find the expression “And G‑d spoke to Moses,” but here the Torah adds the preface, “And G‑d called....” Why does the Torah do so? Our Sages explain that the verse is highlighting the dearness with which G‑d regarded Moses and the Jewish people as a whole, for Moses was the emissary of the Jewish people. Before speaking to him, as a sign of endearment, G‑d first called to him.

The cherished quality possessed by the Jewish people is also reflected by the Haftorah which begins with the verse: “This people I made for My sake; they will relate My praise.”

Every Jew is heir to the entire spiritual legacy of our people. There is a golden chain extending throughout the generations, reaching back to our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to our Matriarchs, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah. Every Jew in the present generation is a representative of the entire collective as it has existed and evolved throughout history. As such, G‑d cherishes every Jew as a father cherishes an only son and He is confident that, regardless of the way he looks or conducts himself, he or she will ultimately “relate G‑d’s praise,” by performing acts of goodness and kindness that reflect his spiritual potential.

The consummate expression of this quality will be in the era of Mashiach, when the virtues of the Jewish people will come to the surface. However, even before that era — and in anticipation of it — we should look at the virtues hidden within our fellow man and labor to bring them to the surface.