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And the LORD said to Moses, "Say to the people of Israel, If any one sins unwittingly in any of the things which the LORD has commanded not to be done, and does any one of them, if it is the anointed priest who sins, thus bringing guilt on the people, then let him offer for the sin which he has committed a young bull without blemish to the LORD for a sin offering. He shall bring the bull to the door of the tent of meeting before the LORD, and lay his hand on the head of the bull, and kill the bull before the LORD. And the anointed priest shall take some of the blood of the bull and bring it to the tent of meeting; and the priest shall dip his finger in the blood and sprinkle part of the blood seven times before the LORD in front of the veil of the sanctuary. And the priest shall put some of the blood on the horns of the altar of fragrant incense before the LORD which is in the tent of meeting, and the rest of the blood of the bull he shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering which is at the door of the tent of meeting. And all the fat of the bull of the sin offering he shall take from it, the fat that covers the entrails and all the fat that is on the entrails, and the two kidneys with the fat that is on them at the loins, and the appendage of the liver which he shall take away with the kidneys (just as these are taken from the ox of the sacrifice of the peace offerings), and the priest shall burn them upon the altar of burnt offerings. But the skin of the bull and all its flesh, with its head, its legs, its entrails, and its dung, the whole bull he shall carry forth outside the camp to a clean place, where the ashes are poured out, and shall burn it on a fire of wood; where the ashes are poured out it shall be burned. ..."
No one is sinless. And knowing ourselves as we do, we know we would be foolish to expect our children to have only good impulses, or to see the path of wisdom always. Sometimes we guide them wrongly from our lack of understanding or from sympathy with their wishes, for often what we know to be hurtful seems to their excited wants a great good. They do, of course, do wrong. What we can expect is that in quiet states they will talk with us about what they have done or wished to do, to learn what is hurtful and what is not. If they do this, we are content, for they are learning.
As with our children, so with ourselves. No one knows all the varieties and phases of evil to which he or she is liable. Our depths of evil and of good we learn by living, and not by thinking about them only. As we grow in awareness of our inner selves, and as new circumstances come in our outer world, we will, of course, do wrong. It is as important for us as it is for our children to understand the error and to seek the wisdom to do better, for we are learning. And so the sin offerings speak not to retribution from a God eager to punish, but to understanding the affections of our hearts and the sources of them as we learn to identify what hurts and to avoid it, to find integrity and wholeness.
Errors recognized, excused, and still persisted in, do not receive much sympathy. Unintentional errors under pressure of wrong guidance or of unfamiliar feelings are easily forgiven. But these too cause injury and unhappiness, and must be dealt with. They can become fixed in our behavior by being continued. But they are forgiven and the mind is freed from them, when they are Identified and discontinued.
The sin offerings described in Leviticus 4 are for this sort of unintentional error. Sins done "unwittingly" like this raise the question of how they are recognized as sins. Whose judgment call them sins? Or who has been at fault in doing them in the first place? Leviticus 4 identifies four sources of unintentional error. The part we have quoted deals with the priest. The chapter goes on to speak of the congregation, the ruler, and, finally, the ordinary citizen. What different mistakes in judgment are distinguished in these four cases, then? And how do they apply to us and to our learning from mistakes?
We have met the priest in us, the part that draws us to the Lord, whose purpose is our good. Can our priest, our conscience, be mistaken? The priest is the idea of God, and the influence of God's goodness among people. The sin of the priest is the perversion of this idea and influence, leading us to seek what is not good in the name of the Lord. How does this happen unintentionally? A child will often hold literally and rigidly to one rule he was taught: one way to make "real" scrambled eggs, one way to hold his hands in prayer, and announce instantly the other way is wrong. We smile, but we respect the conscientiousness involved. The danger comes when we do this in God's name, as adults, holding our belief blindly for ourselves and others. In the history of religions there seems to be no sin that people have not committed conscientiously in the service of their gods. Absolutizing our human judgments, convincing ourselves that conscience or principle demands, and forcing ourselves to go against our intuitive sense of what is loving, can cause extreme suffering for ourselves and others. The Crusades and Inquisition are extreme cases, but there are countless others, some hardly noticed because they are so common. Conscientiously picturing the joys of heaven as pleasures of glory, eminence, or indolence, making self gratification in the future the highest end to be sought (with certain arbitrary conditions), has led directly away from the heavenly joy of closeness to the Lord in the goodness of a life engaged in loving others. Conscience can sometimes lead to hell on earth.
When conscience is in error, we must retrace our steps, bringing to the Lord our hearts just as they are, with their desire to do good and with their unintentional guilt. We must learn from God's Word, not from our imagination alone (or from our friends' or parents') what God is and wills. We must be ready to turn away from what we then know to be evil and painful in the presence of God's goodness. Our priest is open to the Lord. Our priest is our consciousness of what the Lord expects of us, and is to be respected. Commitments of conscience must be kept. But our consciousness is also part of us. And conscience, like the rest of us, must be open to growth as we understand more and more what the commitment means.
If the priest is conscience in us, the congregation is the crowd of our natural desires for the good things of life. These too are good. But they can make mistakes if they judge simply on the strength of each desire or each experience of good as it comes. If feelings alone make the judgment, they seem to want to take us over, selling us into the service of whatever taste or lust (or savior complex) we enjoy the most. Excited wants can blind us to any other needs, just as they can our children.
The sins of the priest and congregation concern primarily the self and God. Those of the ruler and the common people concern our relations with each other. I he ruler who directs the affairs of daily life in the community symbolizes the principles of mutual usefulness, while the ordinary citizen carries out the principles, applying them in particular instances. Unintentional errors can happen in either area, by mistaking the principles of good life, or by misjudging the example. I may have lacked an adequate parent as a child, and have no understanding of the principle of being a parent, of the amount of responsibility to take or of the times to exert authority, and so I may exert no overt authority at all over my child. I intend no harm. My mistake once identified can be corrected and forgiven. And yet harm does occur. Rulers as well as priests can make mistakes.
A sin of the common people is in the application of the principle. A new situation is precisely one not covered in any familiar way by principle. If I become a parent, I am faced with different modern authorities as well as with my memories of my mother or father. One expert shows that it is right to leave the child to "cry it out" and so learn to adjust to the reality and the schedule of those around. Another says to follow the timing of the child, feeding normally on demand until the infant is assured of his or her own identity and value as a person to be loved. Both principles have been taught. My mistake as citizen is not in desiring evil for a child, but in not knowing which principle to apply.
Experience itself can be confusing. I learn that I have different responsibilities in different roles. I may know the principle of what makes a good employee or manager of a business, and the principle of what makes a good parent. But my child's event and my business appointment may coincide. My problem may be not in misunderstanding the principles, but in knowing how to apply them in a particular instance.
Four sources, then, of unintentional harm are distinguished, the priest, the congregation, the ruler, and the common people,-in us the conscience, the feelings, the understanding of the principle, and the practical understanding of how to apply the principle. Each of these four areas is recognized and given its way to go to God for healing.
The way for the priest or for the congregation is the same. The offerer is to bring a bull, the symbol of the working strength of the natural mind, in this case perverted to the work of evil. The offerer (the priest himself or the elders acting for the congregation) as usual puts his hand on its head, identifying with the work as his, and then slaughters it himself, giving it entirely into God's hands. The blood is sprinkled seven times before the veil of the tabernacle, the veil, that is, between the Commandments in the inmost tent of meeting and the outer court of our conscious sense of God's presence and our worship. The blood is the living thought, in this case in the state of repentance; sprinkling before the veil is turning the direction of the thought to be open to heaven, and to learn of God. The blood is then touched to the horns of the altar of incense, in thankful perception of the sweet smell of forgiveness. The remainder of the blood is poured out at the base of the altar, the base that connects it to our common life; and the sacred inner parts and fat are burned on the altar exactly as they are for the peace offering. But now the rest of the hull is not eaten. It is taken, together with the skin and dung, outside the camp to a clean place and burned to ash. The way to freedom from the harm committed is not denial and attempts to forget it, nor war against it, nor eating it, swallowing it and living it until we no longer notice it because it is ourselves. The way is trusting God enough to go with it to God, and then giving it out of our hands into God's, to be taken outside our living area to be burnt to ash.
The way for the ruler or for one of the people is the same, except that blood is touched to the horns of the altar of burnt offering, outside the tent, and that the animal is different,-a male goat for the ruler, a female goat or sheep for one of the people. We have seen the male animal as the begetting principle, and the female as the fruit or application of the principle, the goat as understanding and the sheep as loving. The ruler brings his or her male goat to the Lord, asking to be taught understanding of the principle. The people's error may he from a mistaken understanding of how to apply the principle, or from a mistaken feeling of unwillingness to apply the principle in the case at hand. The people have the choice to make between the goat of understanding and the sheep of feeling.
These four sources of error with their different ways of turning to the Lord, ask us to take seriously the interaction of the different parts of ourselves. Whose judgment has been at fault? Any one of our four parts, separated from its balance with the others, can lead to hurt. Who, then, calls them wrong? We do, as one whole person, when we see that something has gone wrong, and trust the Lord, and our own integrity the Lord has given us, enough to take a step toward change. The intent in the repeated detail is not to encourage us to feel sinful before God's judgment. It is to help us understand our inner process, to see where the problem lies, and to get help.
The hurts we are concerned with here are all "unwitting," coming from good intentions. And yet an immense amount of suffering can come from good intentions; children are injured by parents' mistaken kindness; we all have been dwarfed by mistakes of education; our social and civil relations in every direction are distorted by errors of principle and practice. It seems wrong that people are hurt by the mistakes of those on whom they depend. It is painful to discover that we have done an injury to someone dependent on us. But for us in the Western world, the solution is not to cut off all attachment to others. Our sense of growth toward our humanity demands relationships and choices with consequences, real joy in one another's wisdom and goodness, real pain in one another's faults. It is only in such a context that good judgment, discerning good from evil, or helpful sympathy, can have meaning.
The congregation is to bring its offering when its sin "becomes known," and the ruler or any one of the people is to bring his "when the sin which he has committed is made known to him." If, as human beings, we do affect each other and would not have it otherwise, the choice is not within our power to avoid the joy or hurt that is a part of all relationship. Our critical choice comes rather when it "is made known" to us that we have sinned. Sometimes at this point I deny the realization and continue as before, but now with the added pain of defensiveness, avoidance, and rationalization, with new touchy area to carry along with me with great care. Sometimes I improve on the realization and change my overt behavior, but take on a destructive, hopeless guilt to use against myself, a new source of depression. And sometimes I accept the realization for what it is, a way of learning.
From experience, and after the event, I know that neither denial nor depression is worth the effort. But how can reading about the unwitting sin of priest, or congregation, or ruler, or people, be of help in making a better critical choice? How can it help me to accept the realization and to learn?
For one thing, it helps to be specific. To go to God with hurt or sadness in general, no matter how severe the hurt or sadness, can do more to reinforce than to relieve the problem. Regret on finding I have hurt another can be unbearable unless I ask for help. But to bring the regret of unintentional sin to God, I must bring the specific part of me that needs the healing,--my conscience, feelings, understanding, or practicality. My attention has already shifted from the hopeless pain of guilt to the question that starts the learning: What went wrong? Was it the understanding, of conscience or of principle, that got separated from feeling and so became unreal? Was it feeling, left to run blind without the insight of reason, that lost perspective? Whichever it was, there is a way to put it in the Lord's hands and be healed. But first I need to bring the specific offering, and this itself is a decisive and essential change. Even if at this point I don't yet know which part of me went wrong and need to ask the Lord for guidance, my asking is in a positive direction, and I am already breathing a different air,of hope.
For another thing, it helps to come off the dead center of my war against myself and take action. I must come to the Lord with my offering, conscious of the part of me that needs the healing, but conscious also of my power to take a decisive step as a person. I am no longer trapped in either blind alley, of reasoning or of feeling only, overwhelmed by the guilt or pain which is all that I can see. I come, I who made the original choice, aware again of the two sides of my being, one whole person with perspective.
The Lord I know through the Bible is Truth itself and Love itself in the positive peace of Goodness itself, not one or the other, nor one against the other. The choice of the goat or sheep or of the male or female animal, reminds me of the male and female sides in me, as in all people, the symbols of my truth and love, my understanding and my feeling. My peace is in the inner, peaceful marriage of these two parts of me, with neither one as tyrant or at war against the other. "When love approaches wisdom or unites with it, then love becomes love; when wisdom in turn approaches love and unites with it, then wisdom becomes wisdom." Love and wisdom are not feelings operating without reason. They are not facts accumulated as knowledge apart from an intuitive human common sense. They are a unity of mutual respect. And when I turn to the Lord for help with one side or the other, I am conscious of the wholeness of a wiser love.
For a third thing, it helps to know that I am expected. Even when I love the Lord and try to love my neighbor, I am not always wise or loving. And so the ways are open for me to go to the Lord with the part of me that needs its healing. We are not asked to be always thinking of the Lord or always engaged in formal acts of worship. We are living human beings who do our work and make mistakes. We are asked to turn to the Lord to put ourselves in God's hands, to ask God's help, and learn and be forgiven. Our Lord knows our needs, and has opened the way, and expects that we will come.
Why are there so many kinds of sin offering? Because the four basic parts of our learning edge, our conscience, feelings, reason, and practicality, all need our understanding. The Lord would not have us living on and on in unhappiness. We find the potential of the different parts of us by living them, not by keeping ourselves pure, apart from life. According to Swedenborg, even angels receive more loving ends and wiser love by similar processes of searching and return, for the joy the Lord would give is infinite in the deepening and discovery of that particular union of love and wisdom that is our inner self. When the ends or the ways we pursue bring grief, the Lord would have us come back, and find the step that has gone wrong, and learn what is good, and take that for our end with the Lord's peace and our wholeness in it.
Sit quietly for a moment. Feel your breath coming in and going out. Feel life moving in all parts of your body as they quietly and rightly work together. Rest for a moment in the goodness and the wholeness of being alive. Feel God's wisdom and power sustaining your life, giving life to every creature, sustaining the universe. Feel yourself quietly and rightly part of the wholeness, the goodness, and the wonder of life.
Let your mind turn to some feeling or thought that breaks that wholeness. Is it something you did that hurt another person? Something in you that is not right? Is it something you are ready now to bring to the Lord to be healed?
Is it something that touches your conscience? Your feelings for the goods of life you want? Your ruler, trying to understand the principle of what you do? Or any ordinary citizen in you, not sure how to apply the principle to a particular case?
Whichever part of you it is, turn to it as a friend. Stretch our your hand and take its hand, knowing it as part of you with its power of conscience or feeling or understanding or practicality, and thank God for it. And now go to the altar of God, and give your sin offering totally into God's hands.
Reread Leviticus 4:1-12 to hear God's promise of the way of healing.
And the LORD said to Moses, "Say to the people of Israel, If any one sins unwittingly in any of the things which the LORD has commanded not to be done, and does any one of them, if it is the anointed priest who sins, thus bringing guilt on the people, then let him offer for the sin which he has committed a young bull without blemish to the LORD for a sin offering. He shall bring the bull to the door of the tent of meeting before the LORD, and lay his hand on the head of the bull, and kill the bull before the LORD. And the anointed priest shall take some of the blood of the bull and bring it to the tent of meeting; and the priest shall dip his finger in the blood and sprinkle part of the blood seven times before the LORD in front of the veil of the sanctuary. And the priest shall put some of the blood on the horns of the altar of fragrant incense before the LORD which is in the tent of meeting, and the rest of the blood of the bull he shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering which is at the door of the tent of meeting. And all the fat of the bull of the sin offering he shall take from it, the fat that covers the entrails and all the fat that is on the entrails, and the two kidneys with the fat that is on them at the loins, and the appendage of the liver which he shall take away with the kidneys (just as these are taken from the ox of the sacrifice of the peace offerings), and the priest shall burn them upon the altar of burnt offerings. But the skin of the bull and all its flesh, with its head, its legs, its entrails, and its dung, the whole bull he shall carry forth outside the camp to a clean place, where the ashes are poured out, and shall burn it on a fire of wood; where the ashes are poured out it shall be burned. . . ."
And now visualize the priest in you, in that place of light outside the veil, bringing your offering to God, giving to God the source of your feelings and your memory, and taking the rest, skin and dung and all, outside the camp to a clean place and burning it to ash.
Lord, thank you that all I am and know and think and feel, you know already, and you still love me, that even when I come apart and hurt others and myself, you still love me, every part of me, and give me life and bring me into being. Thank you that you would have me be myself and find my wholeness, my forgiveness, and my healing. Thank you, Lord. Amen.
1E. Swedenborg, Marital Love, Tr. W. F. Wunsch (New York, Swedenborg Publishing Association, 1938), #65.
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