Parashat Vayikra

Fortunate is the Generation

Pararshat Vayikra opens with the subject of the Korbanot (offerings). One of the offerings mentioned is that of the ruler, the king and the governor.

“When a ruler sins, and does through error any one of all the things which the Lord his G-d has commanded not to be done, and is guilty: if his sin, wherein he has sinned, be know to him, he shall bring for his offering a goat, a male without blemish. And he shall lay his hand upon the head of the goat, and kill it in the place where they kill the burnt-offering before the Lord; it is a sin-offering.” (Leviticus 4, 22-24)

In Rashi’s commentaries on the Torah, he says the following regarding these verses:

"When (Asher) a ruler sins" is an expression of "good fortune" (Ashrei). [Implying that] fortunate is the generation whose leader is concerned to bring an atonement for his inadvertent sins, all the more so would he regret his intentional sins.

If we read over the previous verses, we can well understand the motive of Rashi's commentary. Regarding the priest (cohen), the Torah says: "If the anointed priest shall sin" (Vayikra 4, 3). Concerning the congregation, it is written: "And if the whole congregation of Israel shall err” (Vayikra 4, 13). When speaking of an offering from an individual, it is written: “And if any one of the common people sin” (Vayikra 4, 27).

But in regard to the ruler the phrasing is different, and Rashi was sensitive to this fact. “When a ruler sins” it says in this case, and Rashi interprets the word “when” as coming from the root “fortunate” (asher/ashrei).

On the other hand, Professor Y. Leibovitz Z"L has a less optimistic interpretation of the verse.

He also sees that the language concerning the ruler is different….

"In all of the other instances it is stated “If the priest shall sin”, “and if the whole congregation shall err” – but for the ruler it is said “when a ruler sins”.

And so we find in our sources something extremely. Every soul in Israel, and even the anointed priest, might sin, but neither reality nor logic requires that they will. Hence it says "If"

But it is certain that a ruler will sin. Why? Because he is a ruler, and the power of rule has the power to spoil and corrupt the man. Therefore the Torah doesn’t speak of the event as a possibility (if a ruler sins), rather states from the beginning “when a ruler sins” because it is certain that he will sin. It is not possible that there will be a government that will not falter and err or trespass. And that is the Torah’s general attitude towards government: it recognizes it and its authority, but warily.

I don’t know which of these two interpretations is correct… possibly both of them and a word to the wise is sufficient…

May we have the privilege of having leadership with the ability to guide us along the correct path and to also have the ability to admit its mistakes and failures for the common good and in order that we might be able to say “Fortunate is the generation…”.

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