A Dvar Torah for Parashat Tzav
By Rabbi Mordechai Rabinovitz
The first part of this week's parshah focuses on the Kohen's role in the sacrificial service. It opens with the "higher sanctity" (kodshei kodoshim) offerings (olah, minchah, chatas, asham), and then moves on to "lesser sanctity" (kodoshim kalim) offerings (shelamim) (Ramban).
Concerning the sin-offering (chatas), the Torah (Vayikra 6:19, 22) teaches that only a Kohen may eat the meat of the offering.
Why is this so?
Early commentators explain that this is an integral part of what the Torah seeks to accomplish with these offerings. When a person inadvertently commits a transgression which carries the penalty of kares (excision) for intentional violation, he is obligated to bring a chatas offering for atonement.
Why does a person need to atone for a mistake? The assumption is that if he were a truly God-fearing individual, he would be unlikely to commit such grave transgressions even inadvertently.
A person who is serious about his adherence to the laws of the Torah will be sure to learn lots of Torah and will know that everything he does is governed by halachah; such a one is very careful to avoid problematic situations. If, however, a person is more frivolous - even though he too would hardly commit a serious transgression intentionally evertheless, his general lack of knowledge, awareness and concern, might easily lead him to commit such a transgression inadvertently.
Accordingly, the Torah prescribes for his atonement, an offering whose meat is consumed by the Kohen. The Kohen is a person who devotes his entire life to spiritual pursuits and teaching Torah (Devorim 33:10, Malachi 2:7). For someone who has erred, to forge a relationship with a Kohen has the potential to elevate him and inspire him to strive for a more spiritual life. By granting the meat to the Kohen, the Torah is thus conveying the message that the Kohen is the type of person that such errant individuals should look up to as role models and teachers. Doing so can make a positive change in a person's attitude to life (Ralbag).
In this way, the actual consumption of the meat of the offering by the Kohen contributes to the person's atonement (Yevamos 90a).