With the start of the Torah’s third book, Vayikra brings a new focus to the operation of the mishkan- not to the building or its vessels- but rather its services. While it goes through the process of a number of offerings, there is one offering – the “Asham”- which is mentioned (5:15) but not described in detail, at least not until next week’s parshah, Tzav (7:1). What is so unique about the Asham? How is it different than all of the other offerings, especially the Chatat, which is also meant to atone for “sin”?
The Ramban presents what he believes to be the fundamental difference between the two, by connecting the word “Asham”, to a similar word- “shamem”, desolate. The Ramban explains that a chatat is for a “chet”, a sinful act. But an Asham is an offering which targets not the act, but the actor. The one who brings an Asham, a “guilt-offering”, feels a sense of desolation, or a loss of self. Meaning, this person has not simply done something bad, but has found an underlying issue with his or her persona, which needs rectification. As a proof-text to this concept, the Ramban invokes the statement of the brothers when they recalled how they sold Yosef, and were therefore being punished: “but we are guilty (“ashemim”) in regards to our brother, as we noticed his pain through his pleading with us (from the pit) and didn’t listen” (Bereishit 42:21). The Ramban, there, points out that more incriminating than their act (of putting him in a pit, which they do not mention) was their insensitivity and lack of compassion towards Yosef. It was a “guilt” that struck the core of their beings, and wasn’t limited to a one-time, external action.
And so it is with many of our mistakes. They may very well be one-time, spontaneous acts. But often they may reflect a deeper personality concern which we need to recognize and improve upon. And the same can be true in the other direction. When external positive events occur, we should not simply attribute them to happenstance or “luck”. There is an underlying reason for the pattern of positivity, namely, Hashem Himself. This is the message of Megilat Esther. While it’s true, the events of the Purim story never explicitly mention G-d, we cannot allow that to blind us from seeing His Hand working behind the scenes. It is our responsibility in life to notice not only the external occurrences around us or by us- be them positive or negative, but also to appreciate what these actions or events represent, behind the surface. It may, on the one hand, reflect a deeper character flaw which needs improvement, or, on the other hand, reflect G-d’s direct blessing which He bestows upon us every day. We celebrate Purim by masking our outsides to train ourselves to look to deeper- to know that there’s more that meets the eye, we just have to see deeply.