Repairing relationships


This week’s Torah portion is Tsav (Leviticus 6:1 – 8:36).

There are times when apologizing comes easily to us. It is easy to apologize when we bump into someone in a crowded hallway. It is easy to apologize when we are greeted with a groggy “hello” after calling someone a little too late at night. It is easy to apologize when we realize that we double-booked ourselves and need to reschedule. These are honest mistakes and as soon as we realize that we transgressed, we jump to rectify the situation.

But apologizing can also be exceedingly difficult, especially when it comes to our transgressions in relationships. It is difficult to apologize when we see the hurt we have caused by taking advantage of a friend or colleague. It is difficult to apologize when our transgression impacts the larger community.

It is difficult to apologize when we took something, physical or emotional, from another person. Unlike bumping into someone in the hall, these transgressions can have lasting impact. Unlike needing to reschedule a meeting, these trespasses cannot be fixed with a simple, “I’m sorry.” We may not be able to completely restore the relationship that once was.

In this week’s Torah portion we continue to learn about the different types of sacrifices in Leviticus and how to make the offerings. It is the asham, or reparation, offering that was perhaps the most challenging to engage. The asham offering was made when one transgressed God by dealing deceitfully with another person. It was the most expensive offering. Whereas the other offerings had a sliding scale in terms of what could be offered based on one’s status or wealth, the asham sacrifice was a ram plus repayment for the transgression in the form of the principal amount plus 20 percent. Repairing relationships is incredibly difficult and this sentiment is reflected by the high cost of the sacrifice.

Perhaps the high cost of the reparation offering is not about the mistake we made, it is about the challenge of fixing them.

About the reparation offering, Tzav says the following: “V’zot torat ha’asham kodesh kodashim hu,” “And this is the law of the reparation offering: it is most holy” (Lev. 7:1).

This is not the first time that the phrase kodesh kodashim (most holy or holy of holies) is used in this Torah portion, but whereas the preceding two times the phrase refers to the offering itself being most holy, in this verse it is the law about the offering that is referred to as most holy.

Atzei Levanon offers a fascinating interpretation of this verse. He reads the first and second half of the verse as a question and response:

“This is the law of the reparation offering” is asking the question, “What causes a person to sin and trespass?”

And, “it is most holy” can be understood as the answer, “The thought that he is completely righteous.”

We can understand that the reparation offering is performed for a transgression caused because someone who believe that he or she is completely righteous and can do no wrong. But someone who believes he or she is completely holy and infallible inevitably will transgress. The cost for such a transgression is the reparation offering, the offering with the highest cost.

This is because our transgression came about when we decided that we are completely righteous, that we are always right, that we are the most holy. We hurt others not when we inadvertently spill a glass of juice on someone’s table — that is a simple mistake about which we owe a simple apology (and perhaps a new table cloth). We hurt others when we operate as holier than thou, looking only at our path to achieving success without regard to those around us. And while we may get ahead, we also cause much damage on the way. And that damage comes at a great cost, to our relationship with ourselves, with our loved ones, and with God.

Perhaps the cost of the reparation offering is great as a cautionary measure, as a reminder that while it is easy to apologize for a mistake, it is exceedingly difficult to repair broken relationships. Perhaps the cost of the reparation offering is so steep to remind us of the importance of humility. There are few of us who can afford such a high cost, so let’s remember to walk through the world with an awareness of how our actions impact one another. While the immediate gratification may be enticing, we simply cannot afford the price we must pay if we damage our relationships.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion:

— Think about a situation where you would have had to make an asham offering. What was the process you had to go through in order to repair the damage done? Were you able to successfully repair the situation?

— What would be today’s equivalent to offering a ram as a sacrifice?

— What are ways that we can prevent ourselves from entering situations that would necessitate the asham offering.

The writer is the rabbi-educator at Temple Shalom in Chevy Chase.

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