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The “Sin” Offering of the Nazirite

July 28, 2016

Numbers 6:13-14:

This is the law of the nazirite: On the day the term of his nazirite vow is completed, he shall present himself at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. He shall bring his offering to the Lord: one unblemished lamb in its first year as a burnt offering, one unblemished ewe lamb in its first year as a sin offering, and one unblemished ram as a peace offering.

The original Hebrew word for sin offering is hattath. The root of the word, het-tet-alef also spells the traditional Hebrew word for sin, heit, and the hattath is elsewhere prescribed as the offering to atone for a number of sins (Leviticus 4).

But has the nazirite actually sinned in some way? Various answers are offered: that he sinned by ending his term as a nazirite (Nahmanides), or that he had sinned by depriving himself of wine (N’darim 10a).

It seems that according to the p’shat, the nazirite has not sinned, but rather the term hattath must be better understood. The root het-tet-alef in Hebrew also means a form of purification by purging (e.g., in Leviticus 14: and Ezekiel 43:22), and is even the modern Hebrew root for sterilization. Similarly the Hebrew root kaf-pei-reish not only means atonement, it also means to physically scour or purge (also a few times in Ezekiel 43), and is the verb classically used to describe the act of “kashering”vessels that were used to cook sacrificial meat. The hattath of the nazirite, like other hatta’oth, comes to scour (l’chappeir) a certain factor from the nazirite’s soul. Ordinarily, the hattath removes the “stain” of the sin, but in this case, the hattath removes the holiness the nazirite obtained during his term of service.

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