Shaya Cohen -


It is not the Crime – it is the Coverup?

In the Torah, the cover-up can be the crime!

There is a requirement in the Torah that for a sin/offense offering, a male goat, a se’ir izim שְׂעִ֥יר עִזִּ֖ים must be brought. The phrase appears 26 times in the Torah, and 24 of them specifically says it is for a “sin offering” (one of the two other verses (Num 28:28) refers to “Kipur” – atonement or covering, which is also a feature of the sin offering).

What is the meaning of this requirement? It is found in the very first time se’ir izim, a he-goat is mentioned – the first of the 26 verses that mention this phrase:

Then [the brothers] took Joseph’s tunic, slaughtered a he-goat, and dipped the tunic in the blood.

The brothers define a sin for all time. Consider it! The brothers acted against their own brother, and then they conducted a careful cover-up, with the specific goal of deceiving their father while ignoring G-d’s sure knowledge of what they had done. The brothers created a national sin that requires acknowledgement and penance on an ongoing basis!

So bringing a he-goat as a sin-offering is a reminder both that the brothers never did penance to their father (or G-d) for their sin, and it provides the archetype for sin going forward, in all of the aspects:

1: Injury to another person – which is especially bad considering that Joseph was their brother.

2: Covering up for throwing Joseph in a pit, in an attempt to fool their father (it is not clear that the brothers sold Joseph into slavery – the only thing we are sure of is what is in the text).

3: Entirely ignoring G-d in planning and conducting their actions.

And unlike with Sodom, Abimelech and others (all of whom, the text tells us, sinned against G-d), G-d does not punish the miscreants in their lifetime.

As a result, any sin committed by anyone after this event harkens back to that uncorrected sin: when we bring a he-goat, we are to connect with that sin, and acknowledge that we, too, have done wrong. And we seek protection, kipur, for our sins so that we can still function in society and approach G-d in His house. Which neatly ties together the entire text using this one example.

P.S. The first named sin in the Torah is that of Cain, who gave into jealousy and rage (also against his brother). But it is not clear that Cain knew the consequences of his actions, and he acted in the heat of the moment, as opposed to the Brothers, who acted with cold deliberation. The sin of the Brothers was much more developed and thus worse than that of Cain. And, of course, Cain did pay a price, as a wanderer for his crimes. While the brothers suffered for what they had done, the suffering was at the hands of Joseph: there is never an indication that they apologized to their father (who may never have realized that the bloody coat was a ruse) or G-d.

[an @iwe, @susanquinn, @blessedblacksmith and @eliyahumasinter work]

Comments are welcome!