Nature of the Asham
Vayikra 5:14-26 details the laws of the Asham, listing three scenarios for which one is required to bring it. The first (v.15-16) and third cases (v.20-25), known as אשם מעילות and אשם גזילות respectively, both relate to the theft. One who has unintentionally benefited from that which was sanctified to Hashem or one who has intentionally taken property belonging to another and denies this under oath1 are both obligated not only to return the theft and add a fifth but also to bring an Asham. The second case (v. 17-20), known as אשם תלוי, is understood by most2 to refer to a scenario in which one is unsure whether or not they have transgressed a commandment.3
Outside of Parashat Vayikra we learn of three other individuals who must also bring an Asham: a Metzora as part of his purification process (Vayikra 14:10-20), one who has had relations with a pledged maidservant, a שפחה חרופה, (Vayikra 19:20-22) and a Nazirite who has been defiled by the dead (Bemidbar 6:9-12). What is the common denominator uniting all these cases? Some are unintentional crimes, while others are intentional transgressions. Some involve sins against Hashem and others sins against man, while yet others appear not to relate to sin at all. Is there any defining factor which can explain why specifically these individuals must bring an Asham?
Relationship to the Chatat
How does the Asham relate to the Chatat? Both are obligatory offerings connected to certain sins and both are brought by the Metzora and Nazirite. Why, then, not mandate but one offering to cover all the different cases? Why do certain crimes obligate one type of sacrifice and other crimes another? Does this suggest that the two sacrifices serve distinct functions? Some of the difference in protocol include the following:
- Animal brought – While a layman who is obligated to bring a Chatat brings a she-goat or female lamb, in most cases those obligated to bring an Asham must bring a ram. [The Metzora and Nazirite are exceptional and bring a male lamb.] Does the more expensive offering imply that the Asham is brought for more severe offense?
- Blood rites – There is much emphasis on the role of the blood in the Chatat ritual, mentioning pouring, sprinkling and the unique language of placing, ""וּמִן הַדָּם יִתֵּן עַל קַרְנֹת הַמִּזְבֵּחַ". The Asham's blood rite is much more similar to that of the Olah or Shelamim, mentioning only, "וְאֶת דָּמוֹ יִזְרֹק עַל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ סָבִיב". Is there a significance to this difference?
- Difference in status / economics - The Chatat is status dependent, mandating different procedures for layman, prince, and priest. In certain cases, too, it differentiates based on economics, allowing those less well off to bring a lower grade offering. No such distinctions exist by the Asham. Why not?
- Missing sacrificial protocol – The Asham is the only sacrifice mentioned in Parashat Vayikra whose sacrificial protocol is not described, being discussed first in Parashat Tzav.4 How is this to be understood?
- "בְּעֶרְכְּךָ כֶּסֶף שְׁקָלִים" – When discussing the ram to be brought, the verses add that it must be "בְּעֶרְכְּךָ כֶּסֶף שְׁקָלִים" (or simply, "בְּעֶרְכְּךָ", your worth). What is implied by this? How is the ram meant to be evaluated and for what purpose?
- Headings – Though Vayikra 5 speaks of three distinct cases, there are only two distinct headings, at the beginning of the unit and again before the case of אשם גזילות (v. 20).5 Does this imply that the first two cases, אשם מעילות and אשם תלוי, are somehow more connected to each other than to the third case of אשם גזילות? Why, though, would that be? After all, both the first and third cases are related to theft while it is the second case which seems exceptional?