Written by: Dr. Paul Oberman, Upper School Associate Head of School
In this week's parsha, Vayikra, there is a discussion of sin offerings. These offerings cannot make up for intentional sins and are not necessary for sins committed without intent and accidentally. So what type of sin is left? Sins due to carelessness. Ramban notes that these are indeed violations because we have allowed the conditions to be ripe for them to happen by not taking them seriously enough and "building a fence" around the sin.
One challenge in school davening--and indeed in shul davening--is trying to remain completely focused on prayer. Sometimes when people are rebuked for talking one of them will respond "but I wasn't talking...he was talking to me!" This is the type of subtlety the Torah is addressing in terms of sin offerings. Certainly if we make it clear that we are 100% focused on davening, we will not be approached by friends who want to chat with us. Although we may have not spoken ourselves, usually we have created the conditions that allow people to feel comfortable talking to us.
Recently I heard a shul Rabbi rebuking his congregation for talking; he compared the conditions to a theater, where talking would certainly not be tolerated and mentioned how we should not tolerate talking in the service of Hashem. I have heard the distinction made by some that because of the sheer amount of time we spend in shul, we become more lax than in other settings. The implication is that perhaps if we were in the theater for so many hours, conditions would change there to allow for more conversation simply because being in the theater would be eventually taken for granted. (Saturday Night Live's "Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey" humorously makes a similar point: "If trees could scream, would we be so cavalier about cutting them down? We might, if they screamed all the time, for no good reason.") Indeed this is a challenge for most people, keeping davening fresh in spite of the frequent repetition.
May we all be granted additional strength to build a strong fence around these sins of carelessness moving forward.