Seeing is Believing
Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: When a man among you brings an offering to Hashem…
Vayikra deals with the offerings one had to bring in the times of the Temple after sinning. Why was it necessary to set up an elaborate system involving slaughtering animals in order to evoke in a sinner thoughts of repentance? Surely it would have been simpler for the Torah to command the transgressor to confess his sin and accept rebuke!
The Torah chose the most effective method of stirring us to sincere repentance. Of course the Torah could have demanded of a transgressor a mere verbal confession: “I did wrong.” However, the effect of spoken words cannot compare to that of actions, which make a vivid visual impression. Man must bring an animal to the Beis Hamikdash, the Holy Temple, rest his hands on it, and then witness it being slaughtered and burned. One would become conscious of the fact that all the acts performed on the sacrificial animal should rightfully have been done to him. This arouses in a sinner a far more profound awareness of the evil of sin than a mere oral acknowledgment of his wrongdoing.1
Nowadays, since we do not have the opportunity to bring sacrificial offerings for our sins, we need other tools to help make us aware of the reality of sin. A person only sins because he sees the sin as an isolated incident, failing to appreciate the bigger picture which includes the results of his actions. One needs to picture a sin as poison. Just as one can understand that eating a small but harmful thing can really damage the body, so too, every sin is poison for the soul and does real damage. We must take the spiritual world as seriously as the physical world.
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein was once asked to leave the Beis Midrash in order to take an important phone call from another country, but he would not go to the phone since someone was davening Shemoneh Esrei near the front door and blocking his exit, and one is not allowed to enter the four amos of a person standing in prayer. When asked why he could not leave, he said that there was a wall blocking him and he could not walk through a wall. For Rav Moshe, the four amos of prayer was not some vague concept – it was a tangible reality!
1. Chinuch 95