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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Vayikra 5767

A morally inspiring comment, whose psychological kernel is eternally true.

Leviticus 4: 22

"When a Prince has sinned and has done unintentionally any of the commandments of Hashem, his G-d, which should not be done, and is guilty."

When a Prince sins: Rashi: An expression of "good fortune." 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.

What is Rashi Saying ?

Rashi (actually, the midrash) makes a play on words. The Torah says "When ("asher") a Prince sins" and Rashi finds this similar to the word "ashrei" which means "happy is" or "fortunate is." From that pun it is a short leap to the moral lesson about the humble, honest prince.

What would you ask here?

Your Question:

Questioning Rashi

A Question: Granted the play on words is clever, but why the need for it? Why does Rashi cite this drash (it is certainly not p'shat)? Rashi does not usually cite a midrash unless there is some problem with the Torah's words.

What is bothering him?

Hint: Compare our verse with other verses in this parasha where the Torah mentions people sinning and their obligation to bring a sacrifice. (for example: Lev. 4:3; 4:13 etc.)

Your Answer:

What Is Bothering Rashi?

An Answer: Similar verses appear in our sedra. They are:

If ("im") the anointed priest should sin to bring guilt on the people etc. (Leviticus 4:3)

If ("im") the entire congregation of Israel erred and the matter was concealed from eyes of the community etc. (Leviticus 4:13)

If ("im") a person unwittingly sin, one of the ordinary people, etc. (Leviticus 4:27)

But in our verse we have:

When ("asher") a Prince shall sin etc.

Rashi was sensitive to this deviation from the usual language used in this sedra. Thus he commented on the word "asher" which was unusual.

How does his comment explain this difference?

Your Answer:

Understanding Rashi

An Answer: The use of "asher" signified a special message; that the sinning of the Prince, and his recognition and confession of his guilt, constitutes a special occasion. The Prince, being the highest authority in the community, had no one above him to fear. He was the apex of communal power. No one, no power, could enforce the law upon him; no one could punish him for his crimes or misdemeanors. This is a unique situation. The ordinary citizen, even the virtuous one, lives in constant awareness, albeit unconscious, that if he is caught at a misdeed, he may be personally punished and publicly embarrassed. This has a profound deterrent effect on most people. Not so the Prince. He lives, as it were, above the law. He, being the highest authority, need not fear his underlings prosecuting or punishing him. He could dispense with them; not they with him. So, if we have a Prince, that in spite of his unchallenged power, is willing, of his own volition, to admit his guilt, this is quite unusual and significantly praiseworthy. This is the point of Rashi's comment. An example of confession by a community leader is found in the case of Judah (Genesis 38:26) where he admits to having fathered Tamar's child (children), when he could most easily have escaped detection. This courageous and righteous act of admitting his guilt entitled him to be the father of Princes - of King David and his descendants.

A Closer Look

Why do you think Rashi says "Happy is the generation" and not simply "Happy is the Prince"?

Your Answer:

An Answer: It would be somewhat inapt to say "Happy is the prince who sins and admits his sin!" Sinning is never a time or rejoicing. The congregation, on the other hand, did not sin. Their good fortune of having an honest, humble leader is untainted by sin.

A Universal Truth

Leaders of nations have from time immemorial been plagued by the occupational hasard of being the Prince, that plague it is called hubris. The pride and self-confidence in the illusory power of their position, which make any admission of guilt or wrongdoing appear to be an almost superhuman feat. Everyone would breath easier, everyone would utter a sigh of relief, everyone would feel "fortunate" if their nation's leader, their president, king or prime minister would admit his wrongdoing. Indeed "fortunate is the generation whose leader can admit his guilt." Rashi's lesson was true thousands of years ago, it is no less true today.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

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