Our Gemara on Amud Aleph discusses an interesting scenario whereby a woman had separated money for her offerings as a nazirite, and her husband annuled her Nazirhood. If she had not stated which coins were designated for which offering, all the money will be earmarked for communal gift offerings. The Nazir brings a chattas, olah and shelamim, so the Gemara wonders how it is possible to convert what was set aside as a chattas for communal offerings. We usually have a rule that sin offerings have a strictness and cannot be converted or transferred to another purpose. As we shall see later on Daf 27, a sin offering whose owner dies, cannot be brought and must be left to die. One answer that our Gemara offers is that it is halakha LeMoshe Misinai, an oral tradition, that for some reason in the case of sacrifices of the Nazir, (and those similar such as pauper metzora, which we shall discuss more about later), if the money is dedicated collectively and includes the chattas and then the person dies, it can all go to the communal offerings.
Though this is an oral tradition, with no explanation given, as Rambam says (Temurah 4:13 and Meilah 8:8), even though we must be humble and accept the mitzvos whether we understand them or not, it is worthy to delve into possible reasons for them. It would seem to me, this group of offerings are of a kind that get activated in cases where the sin is not clear cut. Who typically brings this combination of sacrifices of Olah and Chattas? A woman who gave birth, a Nazir, a Metzora, Zav and Zava. Each of these represent physical conditions, ailments, liminal and dangerous life events of transition from one phase to another. In the case of a Nazir, a person who made self-imposed exile as if he were a leper, and now wants to rejoin society, which is also a dangerous transition, at least psychologically and spiritually. The commentaries have offered various explanations for why such people bring a chattas, as usually a chattas is only brought for a shogeg sin (from lack of awareness or knowledge) that would have incurred kares (spiritual alienation and a resultant early death) if done with full intent (Kerisos 2A).
Various reasons are given to explain the sin offerings of the non-typical cases where the sin is not clear. The woman who gave birth is said to have made a sinful oath to no longer have children during the throes of her pain, therefore she needs atonement (Niddah 31b). The Metzora, Zav and Zava are suffering from some disease that is a physical manifestation of spiritual and characterological ills, such as l’shon hara. (See Arachin 15b where this is said about Metzora. But we might consider other physical diseases as well to be in this category, especially those that render ritual impurity. Also see Vayikra Rabbah 17:1 that gives a longer list of sins, and Vayikra Rabbah 18:4 which include Zav and Zava in the list of diseases similar to Tzoraas.) Of course, we have seen the Nazir’s sin is also ambiguous, as we saw earlier in this masechta on dapim 18, 19 and 22, for withdrawing from the world and going to an extreme.
Therefore, I think it is fair to say that since the chattas is of an ambiguous nature, it is able to convert itself more easily into a communal offering, unlike regular sin offerings. We will see more about these ambiguous sin offerings tomorrow.
Our Gemara continues its discussion about the pairs of chattas and olah brought by certain people. An even more specific subset of this group are those who bring a bird sin offering and a bird olah offering, it is a pair of birds, usually consecrated at the same time, known as a “keyn” or a “nest”. This group includes a woman who gave birth, but is impoverished and cannot afford a lamb for the olah sacrifice, so she brings both chattas and olah from birds (Vayikra 12:8). Likewise, a metzora who cannot afford an animal sacrifice (ibid, 14:22). Zav (ibid 15:14) and Zava (ibid, 15:29), and a “transgressor” (one who makes a false oath denying payment, as well as one who defiles something set aside as sacred for the Temple and uses it for personal use) who also cannot afford to bring an animal (Vayikra 5:7). Finally, a Nazir who became exposed to a corpse brings a pair of birds, chattas and olah (Bamidbar 6:9-12).
As we saw yesterday, the sin offerings of these persons involve sins that are ambiguous. The bird sin offering represents even greater ambiguity (see Rosh Nedarim 83a), and sometimes it can even be brought when in doubt if obligated, which is never done with an animal chattas sin offering. Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch (Vayikra 1:16) famously and poetically explains the symbolic plight of the bird sacrifice. It is a vulnerable creature with few natural defenses other than to flee. The specific rituals involved in the offering of the bird are demonstrative of its vulnerabilities and sudden brutalities. It alone is slaughtered not by a ritual knife, but at the back of the neck with the cohen’s thumbnail, its body is torn, and blood squeezed out. The message of the combined olah and chattas of birds seems to be one of vulnerability, specifically because the sin is not as clear. In addition, many of the bird offerings are concessions to poverty. The indigent have possibly half-way good excuses for their transgressions; after all, their personal circumstances are much more challenging. The birds are to remind them of the vulnerability and the lack of clarity.
A final thought on this: There is one other sacrifice that comes as a pair in the Torah, and that is the Scapegoat and the Sin offering of Yom Kippur. They too have similar properties as the nest of the bird chattas and olah, in that they are bought as a pair and dedicated as a pair (Vayikra 16:8, see Mishna Negaim 14:5 and Yoma 62a). The two birds and the two goats, both chosen seemingly randomly, meet a seemingly random fate. The message may be, though sometimes matters are morally ambiguous and you are not sure of how guilty you may be, think carefully, as Heaven and Hell are very close, depending on your decisions.