Parshas Pinchas: Understanding a Korban for Hashem

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Pinchas, the Torah details the different korbanos (sacrificial offerings) to brought on the various holy days.  In regard to the korbanos brought on Rosh Chodesh – the beginning of the new month, according to the cycle of the moon – the Torah tells us  וּשְׂעִיר עִזִּים אֶחָד לְחַטָּאת לַ’ה – And one young male goat for a sin offering to Hashem, it shall be offered up in addition to the continual burnt offering and its libation (Bamidbar 28:15).

While on the simple level, the text commands us to bring a sin offering to Hashem, on a deeper, homiletic level, the text can be read as וּשְׂעִיר עִזִּים אֶחָד לְחַטָּאת, לַ’ה – and one young male goat for a sin offering for Hashem.

Rashi (ibid), quoting the Medrash, comments: אָמַר הַקָּבָּ”ה הָבִיאוּ כַפָּרָה עָלַי עַל שֶׁמִּעַטְתִּי אֶת הַיָּרֵחַ – the Holy One, blessed be He, said: Bring an atonement for me, because I made the moon smaller

The Sages teach that way back in the beginning, at the time of the creation of the world, Hashem made the sun and the moon, the two great luminaries, the same size.  However, the moon complained that “two kings cannot wear one crown,” and in response, Hashem shrunk the moon.  According to the Sages, the goat sacrifice that we offer on Rosh Chodesh is an atonement of sorts for Hashem Himself, for making the moon smaller. 

R’ Soloveitchik zt’l quotes the Sages, who teach that this sin offering for Hashem is an atonement, as it were, for the Holy One, blessed be He, for not having completed the work of creation. Pegimas ha’levanah (G-d’s diminution of the moon) is symbolic of the fact that He left creation incomplete, lacking, unfinished – on some level, chaotic. 

From this incompletion, from this chaos, stems our national destiny.  It is no wonder, then, that we are a nation that lives according to the cycle of the moon… Our days begin at night, when the moon rises.  Our months begin with her renewal.  Our entire calendar year is based upon kiddush ha’chodesh, sanctification of the new month, according to the new moon.  For her destiny is our destiny. 

Pegimas ha’levanah, the Rav teaches, represents the exile of the Divine Presence, reflected in Israel’s own exile and the resultant persecutions.  Physical reality and spiritual-historical existence – both have suffered greatly on account of the dominion of the abyss, of chaos, and their fates parallel one another.  As a result of the difficulties that He has caused man through both natural catastrophes and persecution, represented by Pegimas ha’levanah, G-d required an ‘atonement’ on Rosh Chodesh (Chumash Masores haRav, Bamidbar, p.227).

Another interpretation is offered, one with a powerful lesson for us all, in regard to the atonement for Hashem, so to speak, and the sin offering He requires that we bring for Him.

When the moon complained and said, “Two kings cannot wear the same crown,” (see Rashi to Bereishis 1:16), G-d made the moon smaller.

However, “In reality, Hashem had another choice: to leave the moon as it was and enlarge the sun.  This was the ‘sin’ of Hashem.  True, the moon was wrong and had to be punished.  However, instead of making the moon smaller, Hashem could have taught the moon the same lesson, by making the sun larger” (Insight related by R’ N. Dinowitz, my sons’ rebbe in yeshiva).  In all of our actions, interactions, and reactions, we have choices.  We can choose to build up those around us, to make people feel bigger about themselves; or we can choose the other way, the negative way, the diminished way, the small way… by choosing to put down, to make others feel smaller.

Though one may be (particularly those to whom we are the closest) in need of rebuke, direction, and correction from time to time… how we offer our words can have a world of an impact. 

In a shmuess, R’ Pam (1913 – August 16, 2001, Rosh Yeshiva Yeshiva Torah Vodaas, Brooklyn) zt’l once related the following: There is a dispute amongst the poskim as to which comes first on motzei Shabbos of Chanukah: Havdalah or the lighting of the menorah.  R’ Pam followed the opinion that lighting menorah came first.  When his oldest child was 5 years old, he was given his own menorah to light.  On Motzei Shabbos, when the child saw his father preparing to light menorah before having recited havdalah, the boy blurted out, “I don’t care what you do!  I am not lighting my menorah before havdalah!”

Rather than become incensed at this child’s apparent brazenness, R’ Pam understood what was troubling the child and his reason for the outburst (how was it possible to light the menorah prior to ushering out the Shabbos with havdalah?).  He feared that no matter how well he explained the halacha to the child, the boy would be left with a lessened appreciation for the severity of chillul (desecration of) Shabbos.

Whereas another might have lashed out at the child for his seemingly chutzpa’dik outburst, not R’ Pam.  With his characteristic warmth, compassion, love and understanding, R’ Pam told his five year old son, “From now on, we will do it your way,” and he proceeded to recite havdalah before lighting the menorah (Rav Pam, Artscroll, by R’ S. Finkelman, p.141).

Certainly, the RS”O (Master of the World) could have made the moon and the sun either both the same size, both larger, or both smaller.  However, His actions teach us – for He is the Master מלמד תורה לעמו ישראל (Teacher of Torah to His nation, Israel). 

His sin offering comes to teach us that when we are faced with the choice of building someone up or putting someone down, we must always choose the former. 

As we journey through these mournful Three Weeks, wherein we mourn our Land, our City and our Temple, which were destroyed due to sins of baseless hatred (Yoma 9b), this is a powerful lesson we would all do well to remember.

בברכת מנוחת נפש ושבת שלום,


1 Comment
  • Shani Gerlitz
    Posted at 13:18h, 16 July

    Wow- beautiful lesson. The theme fits so nicely in with the Shaaray Shabbos shiur that R’ David Seideman gave this week- on lashon TOV. Using proactive positive language and encouragement as opposed to just refraining for lashon harah. Which goes back to the theme of negativity being a tool of the yetzer harah. Ty.