Parashat Vayikra deals with the laws of the sacrifices, which a person would bring during the times of the Bet Ha’mikdash to atone for certain transgressions. The Torah begins this discussion by speaking of “a person…who offers a sacrifice” – “Adam Ki Yakrib…Korban.” Interestingly, the Torah chooses the word “Adam” in referring to somebody who brings a sacrifice, and the Rabbis comment that this term was chosen to allude to the first person who committed a sin – Adam Ha’rishon. When a person sins and seeks atonement, he is told to reflect on the sin of the ancestor of all people, Adam.
Why should a person seeking atonement think about Adam Ha’rishon? What message from the story of Adam is particularly relevant to a person in this situation?
The explanation, perhaps, is that a person who sins must recognize the gravity and profound effects of his actions. Adam Ha’rishon committed a seemingly minor infraction – eating a fruit from a tree which G-d had designated as forbidden. We might have dismissed his act as a more or less innocent mistake, which although cannot be justified, can nevertheless be excused. But as a result of this “innocent mistake,” G-d decreed death upon all mankind, and forever more we have to work to earn a livelihood rather than enjoy the blessings of Gan Eden. We cannot even imagine all the sorrow, anguish and aggravation that was brought to the world because Adam ate a fruit from the forbidden tree. The lesson of the story of Adam is that violating G-d’s word has severe repercussions. When a person commits a mistake and seeks to atone for his wrongdoing, he needs to be mindful of this reality. He cannot cavalierly dismiss his action as just a benign oversight and think that it’s “no big deal.” He is told to remember Adam’s sin, and to realize that it is a very big deal.
The entire notion of Korbanot (sacrifices) is that a person is able to rectify his mistakes and rebuild his relationship with G-d after it has been strained by sin. Overall, the message of this section of the Torah is an optimistic and upbeat one, assuring us that just as parents continue loving and caring for our children even when they misbehave, G-d continues loving and caring for us even after we sin. However, part of this process of rectification is remembering the message of Adam, and recognizing that sin is a very serious matter that could have grave repercussions. Only once we acknowledge the severity of sin can we then humbly approach G-d to beg for forgiveness and repair the strained relationship.