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Sin Is Not What It Seems

May 9, 2009 | by Shmuel Silinsky

The word "sin" has no connection with endless guilt and eternal damnation. But it does have a lot to do with archery.

One of the most commonly mistranslated Hebrew words is chait, which we usually see translated as "sin."

Sin is one of those words we tend to find repellant.Many of us grew up in non-Jewish societies and as a result of that influence we think of sin as some horrible evil, connected with endless guilt, eternal damnation and a host of other associations that are equally unpalatable.

Does chait really mean that?


The meaning of the word is usually defined by the context of how it is used. So for example, In the Book of Judges (20:16), slingers from the tribe of Benjamin are described as being so good with their weapon that they can "aim at a hair and not chait."

Could this mean to "aim at a hair and not sin"? It makes no sense.

Could this mean to "aim at a hair and not sin"? It makes no sense. Obviously the text means to aim at a hair and not "miss," i.e. not to hit off target.

Another example is in the Book of Kings I (1:21). King David is on his death bed and his wife, Bathsheba, comes to him and says, "If Solomon does not become king after you then Solomon and I will be chataim." Solomon and Bathsheba will be sinners? It means that Solomon and Bathsheba will not reach their potential, will not make the grade, will not measure up.

A third example: The Hebrew for one of the many sacrificial offering is chatot, from the same root as the word chait. This offering -- called in English a "sin offering" -- can only be brought for something done unintentionally.In fact, if a person purposely committed a violation, he is forbidden to bring a chatot. It is truly a "mistake offering" rather than a "sin offering."

"Off target," "not reaching the mark," "mistake," and "unintentional" are all indications that the word chait does not mean "sin."

A more accurate translation of the Hebrew chait is "error" or "mistake."

A more accurate translation of the Hebrew chait is "error" or "mistake."

People don't "sin." People make mistakes. After all, we are human. And the Jewish way is to learn from our mistakes. We apologize, clean up any mess, and move on with life.

Of course, there can be real ramifications to our mistakes.

If a glass of milk is dropped, the milk is gone and the glass is shattered. So what do we do?

We deal with the fallout and fix what we can. Our amends may include a sincere apology, removing the shards, getting the carpet cleaned and buying a new bottle of milk. But we do not become steeped in guilt over our "sin."

Note that there are other words in Hebrew which are also mistranslated as "sin," but which convey a more serious misdeed than an error.To cite two examples: avon, refers to willful, knowing transgression of God's law where one's desires get the upper hand; pesha, refers to a willful transgression done specifically to spite God.

However, the most common word translated as "sin" is chait. The "sin" of Adam and Eve was chait, a mistake.

So many of the concepts we may have in our minds may really not be Jewish at all. Taking a fresh look can give us great insights and clarity -- and tips to make our lives more meaningful.


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