> Weekly Torah Portion > Intermediate > What's Bothering Rashi?

When a Prince Sins

Vayikra (Leviticus 1-5 )

by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek

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

We begin a new sefer this week, the third of the five books, Sefer Vayikra. This book deals mainly with the laws of the Temple and the Kohanim (priests). But it also deals with Mitzvos that make the Jewish People a "Nation of Priests."

In discussing the various offerings to be brought in the Temple, we find the following verse which relates the offering which a leader brings when he sins.

Leviticus 4:22

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



When a Prince sins - Rashi: An expression of "good fortune." [Implying that] 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.



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:



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 Parsha where the Torah mentions people sinning and their obligation to bring a sacrifice. (For example: Lev. 4:3; 4:13 etc.)

Your Answer:



An Answer: Similar verses appear in our Parsha. 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 shall 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 all other instances of sacrifice-offerings in this Parsha. Thus he commented on the word "asher" which was unusual.

How does his comment explain this difference?

Your Answer:



An Answer: The use of "asher" signifies a special message; that the sinning of the Prince, and his recognition and confession of his guilt, constitutes a special, rare 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.



Not long ago a president of the United States was impeached by the Congress. The most powerful man in the world was humbled, severely criticized and publicly embarrassed, all because he could not bring himself to admit to wrongdoing, all because he could not say "chatasi," "I have sinned." Hubris and the illusory power of his position, make such an admission appear to be an almost superhuman feat. Everyone would have breathed easier, everyone would have uttered a sigh of relief, everyone would have felt "fortunate" if the president would have admitted 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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