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Hashem passed before him and proclaimed Forgiver of iniquity and willful sin and error. (Shemos 34:6,7)
When the kohen gadal entered the kodesh hakadashim of Yom Kipper, he confessed on behalf the Jewish people with the words chatasi avisi pashati (Yoma 36b, Musaf Yom Kippur). The word chatasi is translated, as I have inadvertently sinned. The following two words, avisi and pashati are translated as different types of intentional sins. In this weeks parsha in the aftermath of the sin of the golden calf, Hashem taught Moshe the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy. Among the list are Hashem forgives avon, pesha and chatah. Here the inadvertent sins are placed after the willful sins. Why is there a difference in order between the confession of the kohen gadol on Yom Kippur and the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy?
First let us suggest that confession for inadvertent sins prior to intentional sins represents a gradual ascent in repentance. It is logical for one first to repent for the minor sins of inadvertent transgression and then for the more severe category of intentional sins. Indeed the Gemara (Yoma 36b) says that it would be illogical to repent for inadvertent sins after one has already repented for the intentional sins. The method of first placing the inadvertent sins before the intentional sins conveys the idea that there is a gradual progression when attempting to reach spiritual heights. There must be an order and a plan. Indeed, we see that the kohen gadol used this technique on Yom Kippur.
However in the aftermath of the sin of the golden calf this was not practical. Punishment was imminent. Moshe had just shattered the tablets and the Jewish people knew they were next. In such a circumstance, there is no time to gradually repent. Such situations require an emergency plan. Here one must skip certain steps and then work backwards and fill in the missing gaps.
It is noteworthy that on Taanis Esther it is customary to give the machtzis hashekel. Chazal tell us that the shekalim that Haman paid to annihilate the Jewish people were negated by the machtzis hashekel coins that the Jewish people donated. Furthermore, the commentators explain that the machtzis hashekel were given as atonement for the sin of the golden calf (Shemos 30:15). We see that the machtzis hashekel was instrumental in bringing atonement both in the time of Purim and in the time of the sin of the golden calf. The explanation is that in both situations, punishment was imminent. In the time of Purim, there was a decree to annihilate all the Jews. Likewise, after the sin of the golden calf, it was Hashems desire to destroy the Jewish People. Both cases called for an emergency plan of repentance. Indeed, in the time of Purim, Esther and Mordechai called for a three day fast and after the sin of the golden calf Moshe prayed on behalf of the Jewish people and was taught the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy. In both of these situations, proper preparation, planning and order were not required. Here, the repentance was of the nature of the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy where they atoned for the more severe willful transgressions first.
The Hebrew title for the Day of Atonement is Yom Hakipurim. The commentators take note that this may be literally translated as, a the day that is like Purim. This translation has the connotation that Yom Kippur is only like Purim but not quiet as powerful and holy as Purim. Based on this idea the commentators give various explanations to define the exact relationship between the two. With the above idea in mind we can perhaps suggest another explanation. On Yom Kippur a person can only ascend spiritual heights if he prepares and follows the proper protocol of repentance. This is seen in how the kohen gadal would first confess for inadvertent sins and then work his way up to the more serious sins. However, on Purim one can attain high spiritual levels without any preparation whatsoever. This is seen in the thirteen Attributes of Mercy where we first mention the more severe intentional sins and then the inadvertent sins.
© Efraim Levine 5761/2001