Just this week an Ontario Court ruled that a 19 year old convicted of first degree murder of a police officer would be spared jail time (he was 15 at the time of the murder) as the judge ruled that the injuries he suffered as a result of his actions - he is now a quadriplegic - is punishment enough. I have little interest in commenting on the case itself[1] (see here for further details) but the story came to my mind as I was learning the discussion of the korban mincha, the flour offering, that the suspected Sotah must bring.

The korban mincha was brought to be eaten. A kometz, a handful, was burned on the altar with the rest eaten by the kohanim. The Torah sets the basic recipe for the mincha - no honey, it must be unleavened, must be salted and must have oil and spices (see Vayikra chapter 2). But with most recipes there are times we are to tweak them for a specific occasion. "All meal offerings require oil and frankincense but this [the sotah offering] does not require oil and frankincense; all meal offerings come from wheat and this comes from barley" (Sotah 14a).

The Gemara explains that "as her actions were the actions of an animal, so her offering consists of animal food"(Sotah 15b). While we give the Sotah every opportunity and encouragement to admit guilt if appropriate, at the same time we want to demonstrate the seriousness of adultery or even being involved in actions that give us good reason to suspect adultery. We uncover her hair, rip her clothes and "say things that should not be heard". Having put oneself in a position where the sotah procedure must be done greatly upset the rabbis. Humans are expected to control their desires.

Yet the Gemara notes that the claim of the Mishna of the uniqueness of the Sotah's korban is not to be taken literally. Other sin offerings share a similar fate. "It has been taught: Rav Shimon said: By right the meal-offering of a sinner should require oil and frankincense, so that a sinner should not gain. Why, then, are they not required? That his offering should not be beautified. By right an ordinary sin-offering should require wine libations, so that a sinner should not gain; why, then, are they not required? That his offering should not be beautified" (Sotah 15a). While a regular sin offering may lack oil and spices it is brought of wheat. Only the sacrifice of the suspected adulterer lacks oil, spices and wheat.

The Gemara notes that the sacrifices of a metzora require wine libations as the offering are not a result of sin. Yet have we not all been taught that one gets tza'arat due to the speaking of lashon hara? How can the Gemara claim the plague of tza'arat is not due to sin[2]?

To this the Gemara gives the startling answer that the suffering incurred by the plague of tza'arat is punishment enough. There is no need to also punish the metzora by making his offering of inferior quality. The sacrifice is brought "merely" so that one be allowed to enter the Temple.

To phrase the above slightly differently the Gemara teaches that a sin offering does not fully correlate to the commission of sin. Many, nay most, sins even very serious ones, do not require a sin offering and we have to search hard and far to find a sin to associate with some of those who must bring a sin offering. A woman after childbirth must bring a sin offering and sin offerings are brought on all holidays[3], two areas in which we would least expect it. The primary cause for a korban chatat is when one accidentally violates a negative commandment that if one were to violate purposely would carry the punishment of karst, excision, (and even here there are exceptions). While the action itself was wrong the one who did so made more of a mistake than commit a sin.

That being the case the Gemara wants to know why the sin offering the nazir brings in completing his nezeeroot has no libations associated with it; after all a nazir is referred to by the Torah as being holy (Bamidbar 6:8). To this the Gemara answers that Rabbi Shimon, who equates the lack of oil, spices and libations with sin, is of the view that a nazir abstaining from that which is permissible is in fact a sinner.

What a deep, insightful and beautiful Jewish idea. One can be holy - and recall that holiness is marked by separation - and a sinner at the same time.

[1] It should be noted that the majority of quadriplegics soon adjust to their new reality and many actually claim that overall they are happy with their lives. See here for a fascinating study that over time lottery winners are no happier than quadriplegics.

[2] In truth it is not only lashon hara that may be the cause of tza'arat. "Rav Shmuel bar Nahmani said in the name of Rav Yochanan: Because of seven things the plague of leprosy is incurred: slander, the shedding of blood, vain oath, robbery and envy" (Erchin 16a).

[3] Our Sages do search for "sins" to explain each korban chatat - for example the pain of childbirth may cause a mother to vow never to be intimate with her husband again (Nidah 31b) - but many of these explanations go well beyond the psuto shel mikra, the plain reading of the text. I await a comprehensive analysis of the exact nature of the sin offering helping to explain its "inconsistent" application.