Vayikra: The Greatest “Cover-up” ~ Tzvi Abrahams
כּוֹפֶר: redemption payment
כַּפֹּרֶת: the cover of the Ark
כְּפִיר: young lion
כּוֹפֶר: one who denies Torah
וְסָמַךְ יָדוֹ עַל רֹאשׁ הָעֹלָה וְנִרְצָה לוֹ לְכַפֵּר עָלָיו
And he will place his hand on the head of the olahand it will be pleasing to Him (Hashem) to effect atonement upon him.1
With the Mishkan now completed, Parshas Vayikradeals with the bringing of the korbanos/sacrifices, which were brought mainly to effect atonement. The main purpose for the building of the Mishkan was to give the Jewish People the opportunity to gain forgiveness for the sin of the Golden Calf and for future generations to also have the opportunity to gain forgiveness. In fact, if man was not given the means to be forgiven, the world would be unable to remain in existence.2
Every man is a world unto himself, and therefore each and every one of us needs the power of forgiveness to sustain our continued existence.
כּוֹפֶר: Redemption Payment
InShemos, the Torah commands one to pay a כּוֹפֶרpayment in the situation where one’s ox kills a man.3A murderer, however, or even someone who killed accidently, is not given the means to redeem himself through the payment of money. Instead, he has to flee to the nearest city of refuge, and if he is found guilty of killing with intent, only then can he receive kaparahwith the death sentence.
כַּפֹּרֶת: The Cover of the Ark
The Ibn Ezra draws a parallel between the כַּפֹּרֶת, the cover of the ark, and the pasukin Tehillimwhere it says: אַשְׁרֵי נְשׂוּי פֶּשַׁע כְּסוּי חֲטָאָה/happy is the man who is forgiven by having his sin covered up.4
In this sense, Hashem forgives our sins by covering them over. The concept of a “cover-up” in Torah terms is actually a good thing. The cover-up we are generally accustomed to is the attempt to hide a sin that still exists. The Torah’s understanding of covering up a sin refers to a sin that no longer exists, which can only be achieved through atonement. This is symbolized by the כַּפֹּרֶת, a cover that is born out of כַּפָּרָה/atonement.
In the same way, we have to banish the sin from our minds. In order for our sins to be forgiven, we not only have to refrain from the sin itself, we also have to uproot the thoughts and memory of the sin in its entirety. “Out of sight, out of mind,” — when we clean out our minds, it is, so to speak, out of sight from Hashem’s vision, and this effects atonement. As long as we entertain thoughts of our past sins, we can never be truly happy with ourselves. Happiness comes from having a pure mind, where we are able to stand up in front of Hashem without the shame of being clothed in stained garments.
It is around this time, the Shabbos before Rosh Chodesh Nisan, that we read ParshasHaChodesh. It was on Rosh Chodesh Nisan that the inauguration ceremony of the Mishkan took place, giving us the ability to bring korbanos, receive atonement, and effect hischadshus/renewal.
InBereishis, Hashem instructs Noach to build the ark וְכָפַרְתָּ אֹתָהּ מִבַּיִת וּמִחוּץ בַּכֹּפֶר/and to coat it with a protective layer of כֹּפֶר/pitch, both inside and outside.5The כֹּפֶרacted as a sealant to prevent the water from entering.
We see from here that the root כפרalso has an element of protection.
כְּפִיר: Young Lion
In the last paragraph of bentching, we quote a verse from Tehillimthat says: כְּפִירִים רָשׁוּ וְרָעֵבוּ וְדֹרְשֵׁי ה’לֹא יַחְסְרוּ כָל טוֹב/young lions roar and hunger, but those who search out Hashem do not lack any goodness.6
Aכְּפִירis a young lion. It is no longer a cub and yet has not reached full adulthood. Unlike the mature adult who can fend for itself, and unlike the lion cub that is taken care of by its mother, the כְּפִירis on its own and only gets a share of the leftovers. For this reason it can sometimes go hungry.
נַהַם כַּכְּפִיר אֵימַת מֶלֶךְ מִתְעַבְּרוֹ חוֹטֵא נַפְשׁוֹ
Like the roar of a young lion should be the fear of the king, and one who trespasses the boundary between himself and the king, sins and endangers his life/soul.7
At Har Sinai there were boundaries placed around the mountain that we were warned not to cross over. These boundaries were for our own protection; if we would have crossed over them, we would have died. The idea of a boundary is to separate us from Hashem, which helps us become acclimated to having fear of the King. This in turn helps us to accept upon ourselves עוֹל מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם/the yoke of Heaven, which means that we train ourselves to be aware that we do everything in the name of the King. On the other hand, if we have no fear of the lion (Hashem), it will end up eating us, especially a young, hungry lion.
The concept of atonement helps us to attain fear of Hashem, like it says:
אִם עֲוֹנוֹת תִּשְׁמָר יָ-הּ אֲדֹנָי מִי יַעֲמֹד.כִּי עִמְּךָ הַסְּלִיחָה לְמַעַן תִּוָּרֵא
If You are forever mindful of our sins, Hashem, who could withstand it? Rather, with You is forgiveness, in order that we come to fear You.8
In our morning prayers, we say: כְּפוֹר כָּאֵפֶר יְפַזֵּר…לִפְנֵי קָרָתוֹ מִי יַעֲמֹד/frost, like ashes He disperses…who can stand up to His cold?9
Some things do not afford us protection, and just like the lion bites, so too one can get frostbite.
Similarly, the village, unlike the walled city, is not protected and is open to the enemy.
כּוֹפֶר: One Who Denies the Torah
So too the כּופֶר בְּעִיקָר/one who denies the authenticity of the Torah and its sages, is in essence throwing off the protective boundaries of עוֹל מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם/the yoke of Heaven. He is now, just like the frost, open to the elements and is susceptible to being bitten. As we have said before, it is not the snake that bites, but rather it is the sin that bites.10
In conclusion, the giving of korbanossymbolizes our commitment not to sin anymore, to cleanse our minds from any trace of sin, to beseech Hashem into giving us atonement through covering up our sins, which in effect protects us from any harmful repercussions.
The root כפרis therefore a protective cover or lack of one. It’s a little bit like having life insurance: if you have it, you are protected; if you don’t, you are exposed. Having said this, life insurance only affords you cover in this world, whereas כַּפָּרָה/atonement gives you a protective cover even in the World to Come.
4Ibn Ezra to Shemos25:17, quoting Tehillim 32:1.