Vayikra Four: Collective Sin

So we have the sacrifices, and now we move towards the regulations about what needs to be done in order to atone through sacrifice. “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the children of Israel, saying: If anyone shall sin through error, in any of the things which the Lord has commanded not to be done, and shall do any one of them (Leviticus 4:1-2).” We hear about the different ways that a person can sin that will require sacrifice.

Specifically, the categories given are:

1. What to do if a priest sins and therefore brings collective guilt on the people

2. What to do if the whole community sins

3. What to do if a ruler sins

I struggle with these concepts, because they all seem to play into the idea of collective guilt, and by extension of that, collective punishment. There are so many tragic cases in the world today where a whole population is punished or blamed for the actions of a few. On the one hand, in an ideal world, judging the collective based on the deeds of the individual would lead to people being more mindful and intentional in order to not bring pain upon their community. However, in reality, whole groups are routinely forced to suffer because of extremist factions within them that don’t necessarily represent the desires or beliefs of the collective. Should a whole people suffer because of their leaders? Are they guilty by default because of the actions of those who represent them? How does this carry out in populations where the people aren’t responsible for electing their leaders, but have them forced upon them?

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