Vayikra: The Purgation Offering

דַּבֵּ֞ר אֶל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵל֮ לֵאמֹר֒ נֶ֗פֶשׁ כִּֽי־תֶחֱטָ֤א בִשְׁגָגָה֙ מִכֹּל֙ מִצְוֺ֣ת יי אֲשֶׁ֖ר לֹ֣א תֵעָשֶׂ֑ינָה וְעָשָׂ֕ה מֵאַחַ֖ת מֵהֵֽנָּה׃

Speak to the Israelite people, saying: When someone inadvertently transgresses any of יי’s commandments about things not to be done, and does one of them...

(ג) אִ֣ם הַכֹּהֵ֧ן הַמָּשִׁ֛יחַ יֶחֱטָ֖א לְאַשְׁמַ֣ת הָעָ֑ם וְהִקְרִ֡יב עַ֣ל חַטָּאתוֹ֩ אֲשֶׁ֨ר חָטָ֜א פַּ֣ר בֶּן־בָּקָ֥ר תָּמִ֛ים לַיי לְחַטָּֽאת׃

If it is the anointed priest who has incurred guilt, so that blame falls upon the people, he shall offer for the sin of which he is guilty a bull of the herd without blemish as a purgation offering to יי.

(יג) וְאִ֨ם כׇּל־עֲדַ֤ת יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ יִשְׁגּ֔וּ וְנֶעְלַ֣ם דָּבָ֔ר מֵעֵינֵ֖י הַקָּהָ֑ל וְ֠עָשׂ֠וּ אַחַ֨ת מִכׇּל־מִצְוֺ֧ת יי אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹא־תֵעָשֶׂ֖ינָה וְאָשֵֽׁמוּ׃ (יד) וְנֽוֹדְעָה֙ הַֽחַטָּ֔את אֲשֶׁ֥ר חָטְא֖וּ עָלֶ֑יהָ וְהִקְרִ֨יבוּ הַקָּהָ֜ל פַּ֤ר בֶּן־בָּקָר֙ לְחַטָּ֔את וְהֵבִ֣יאוּ אֹת֔וֹ לִפְנֵ֖י אֹ֥הֶל מוֹעֵֽד׃

(13) If it is the community leadership of Israel that has erred and the matter escapes the notice of the congregation, so that they do any of the things which by יי’s commandments ought not to be done, and they realize guilt— (14) when the sin through which they incurred guilt becomes known, the congregation shall offer a bull of the herd as a purgation offering, and bring it before the Tent of Meeting.

(כב) אֲשֶׁ֥ר נָשִׂ֖יא יֶֽחֱטָ֑א וְעָשָׂ֡ה אַחַ֣ת מִכׇּל־מִצְוֺת֩ יי אֱלֹקָ֜יו אֲשֶׁ֧ר לֹא־תֵעָשֶׂ֛ינָה בִּשְׁגָגָ֖ה וְאָשֵֽׁם׃ (כג) אֽוֹ־הוֹדַ֤ע אֵלָיו֙ חַטָּאת֔וֹ אֲשֶׁ֥ר חָטָ֖א בָּ֑הּ וְהֵבִ֧יא אֶת־קׇרְבָּנ֛וֹ שְׂעִ֥יר עִזִּ֖ים זָכָ֥ר תָּמִֽים׃

(22) In case it is a chieftain who incurs guilt by doing unwittingly any of the things which by the commandment of his God יי ought not to be done, and he realizes guilt— (23) or the sin of which he is guilty is made known—he shall bring as his offering a male goat without blemish.

(כז) וְאִם־נֶ֧פֶשׁ אַחַ֛ת תֶּחֱטָ֥א בִשְׁגָגָ֖ה מֵעַ֣ם הָאָ֑רֶץ בַּ֠עֲשֹׂתָ֠הּ אַחַ֨ת מִמִּצְוֺ֧ת יי אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹא־תֵעָשֶׂ֖ינָה וְאָשֵֽׁם׃ (כח) א֚וֹ הוֹדַ֣ע אֵלָ֔יו חַטָּאת֖וֹ אֲשֶׁ֣ר חָטָ֑א וְהֵבִ֨יא קׇרְבָּנ֜וֹ שְׂעִירַ֤ת עִזִּים֙ תְּמִימָ֣ה נְקֵבָ֔ה עַל־חַטָּאת֖וֹ אֲשֶׁ֥ר חָטָֽא׃

(27) If any person from among the populace unwittingly incurs guilt by doing any of the things which by יי’s commandments ought not to be done, and realizes guilt— (28) or the sin of which one is guilty becomes known—that person shall bring a female goat without blemish as an offering for the sin of which that one is guilty.


Leviticus describes many of the sacrifices our ancestors offered in order to draw closer to God. The purgation offering, described here, begins to restore a sense of harmony between humanity and the Divine following a transgression by sweeping its contamination away from the community's midst, much like disinfectant purges a hospital room from harmful bacteria.

The offering takes different forms depending upon the social status of the transgressor, with the priest being held to the highest standard. The rules emphasize accountability, rather than privilege, as well as the need to publicly address transgression, even when accidental or private.


How does the relationship between guilt and the private and public sphere work in the modern context? How should it work? Especially when so much of our lives becomes public via social media?