Keritot 22 - 28
The Atonement Mystery
Does Yom Kippur absolve the sinner from the responsibility of offering the sacrifice prescribed for his atonement?
There is a distinction between the chatat or asham sacrifices which one must offer when he is aware of the sin he committed and the asham talui sacrifice required when he has a doubt as to whether he sinned. The Yom Kippur atonement is described in the Torah as On this day there will be an atonement for you to purify you from all your sins; before G-d shall you be purified. (Vayikra 16:30) Rabbi Elazar points out that only for those sins which are before G-d, known by Him and not the sinner, is there an atonement on Yom Kippur, which eliminates the need for a sacrifice. This applies to the asham talui but not to the chatat and asham which would be offered for sins that are known to the sinner as well.
The question is raised in our gemara about the egla arufa, the calf which is beheaded as an atonement for the residents of the city nearest the corpse of a man who was murdered by an unknown assailant (Devarim 21:1-9). If that beheading did not take place before Yom Kippur, there is reason to assume that it will not be required afterwards since this is also a sin in which only G-d knows who the sinner is. The Sage Abaye rejects this suggestion because the murderer himself is aware of the sin he committed. The Sage Rava takes a different approach in determining that the egla arufa rite must be performed even after Yom Kippur. He cites a passage which declares that there will be no atonement for the land in which blood has been shed other than the blood of the one who shed it. (Bamidbar 35:33) This is a clear indication that Yom Kippur cannot atone for any guilt connected with murder.
Rashi writes that Rava saw in this passage a statement that there can be no atonement for murder other than the execution of a known murderer or the egla arufa for an unknown murderer. The problem with this is that the passage cited by Rava refers only to the punishment of a known murderer and makes no mention of the egla arufa. In his commentary Rashash suggests that since the purpose of the egla arufa rite was to stimulate public interest in tracking down the murderer (a concept already mentioned in Rambams Moreh Nevuchim), we can understand that atonement for murder can be achieved either by actually punishing the murderer or at least making the effort to bring him to justice through the publicity generated by the egla arufa.
- Keritot 26a
The Royal Debate
If someone makes a vow to offer a sacrifice for which either a sheep or a goat qualify, is there a preference for one over the other?
From the fact that the Torah usually mentions sheep before goat when discussing both as sacrifices it would seem that it is the preferred species. The mishna, however, dismisses this assumption because there is one place - the laws of an individual Jew offering a chatat sacrifice - where the Torah first mentions his offering a goat (Vayikra 4:28) and only later mentions his offering a sheep (ibid. 4:32). This teaches us that sheep and goat have equal status and either one can be offered as fulfillment of a vow.
Ignorance of the mishnas ruling is attributed to a kohen gadol by the name of Elazar of Kefar Barkai who failed to apply it when he faced a fateful challenge. The king and queen of the Hasmonean dynasty once debated which of the two animals was preferable, with the king favoring the goat and the queen the sheep. They decided to seek the judgment of the kohen gadol because of his familiarity with these animals which regularly served as sacrifices. Instead of citing the ruling of the mishna that they are equal, he insolently waved his hands at them and haughtily dismissed their question by arguing that if goats were of equal status with sheep they should have qualified for the daily communal sacrifice for which only sheep are eligible.
The insolent manner in which he responded angered the king who ordered that the hand he waved at him be cut off. The gemara points out that this was Heavenly punishment for the disrespect which Elazar had shown for the sacrifices by wearing a covering on his hands when performing the sacrificial service in order to avoid blood getting on them.
There are two different explanations of the nature of the debate between the king and queen. Rashi (Mesechta Pesachim 57) writes that the issue is which meat is tastier. Rabbeinu Gershom on our gemara maintains that the debate was in regard to which of the two animals is preferred as a sacrifice. Whichever the case, the kohen gadol could have avoided taking sides by truthfully - and diplomatically - referring the royal couple to the equal status which the Torah awarded to the animals in question.
- Keritot 28b