Negligence & Carelessness: Leviticus 4: 1-12

The last three days were voluntary sacrifices. Yesterday’s positively celebratory. Today’s sacrifice is obligatory: chatat, often read as ‘sin offering’.  We’re starting with a range of unintentional sins, not deliberate sin-and-confess protection rackets.    This kind of sin can better be translated as ‘missing the mark’, by accident, ignorance, or oversight.

Our jurisprudence has a range of words for liability and intention.  Civil or tort liability can include negligence, carelessness, or recklessness.  Regulators adjudicate liability as strict or vicarious without intention.  Criminal culpability is based on mens rea, state of mind, not only actus reus, behavior, and distinguishes premeditation from impulsiveness.

My own aphorism is ‘always go with the incompetence theory before the conspiracy theory’.  I’ll presume people are stupid or clumsy, and don’t think, before I’ll back up and recognize their self-serving distortions: ‘first we convince ourselves a lie is true, then tell that new truth’.  I wish our culture were as generous as Leviticus!

Instead, blame and conspiracy theories, and investigative journalism, impute motives where there are none, and we are all righteous and full of rage.  We rarely confess, and have few releases for our sense of complicity, to make right was it not yet at one between us and each other, us and god, us and ourselves.  Oh, for a sacrificial altar!

The next couple of days, we pursue this chapter of obligatory sacrifice for unintentional sins more slowly.  Relish what you read, and try to translate it across the millennia and the miles, to our own place and time and culture, far from desert tents or Jerusalem temples, in your virtual space, or the ‘mental movie between your ears’.

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 Speak to the people of Israel, saying: When anyone sins unintentionally in any of the Lord’s commandments about things not to be done, and does any one of them:
3 If it is the anointed priest who sins, thus bringing guilt on the people, he shall offer for the sin that he has committed a bull of the herd without blemish as a sin-offering to the Lord.
4 He shall bring the bull to the entrance of the tent of meeting before the Lord and lay his hand on the head of the bull; the bull shall be slaughtered before the Lord.
5 The anointed priest shall take some of the blood of the bull and bring it into the tent of meeting. 

6 The priest shall dip his finger in the blood and sprinkle some of the blood seven times before the Lord in front of the curtain of the sanctuary.
 7 The priest shall put some of the blood on the horns of the altar of fragrant incense that is in the tent of meeting before the Lord; and the rest of the blood of the bull he shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt-offering, which is at the entrance of the tent of meeting.
8 He shall remove all the fat from the bull of sin-offering: the fat that covers the entrails and all the fat that is around the entrails;
9 the two kidneys with the fat that is on them at the loins; and the appendage of the liver, which he shall remove with the kidneys, 
10 just as these are removed from the ox of the sacrifice of well-being. The priest shall turn them into smoke upon the altar of burnt-offering. 
11 But the skin of the bull and all its flesh, as well as its head, its legs, its entrails, and its dung— 
12 all the rest of the bull—he shall carry out to a clean place outside the camp, to the ash heap, 
and shall burn it on a wood fire;  at the ash heap it shall be burned.