Two similar se’irim – sacrificial goats – are set aside for use in the Temple service on Yom Kippur, and are chosen by lottery to be brought as a sacrifice in the Temple or sent to be thrown off the cliff to Azazel (see Vayikra 16:5-22). The Gemara on today’s daf (=page) discusses the se’ir that was brought as a sacrifice in the Temple – what purpose did it serve? Although the baraita is certain that it comes to atone for sins that relate to entering the Temple in a state of ritual defilement, our Gemara considers other possibilities, as well.
Perhaps it comes to atone for a yoledet – a woman who recently gave birth?
The Gemara explains that the Torah makes clear that this is an atonement for sin, not for ritual impurity, like that of a yoledet.
Perhaps it comes to atone for a metzorah – a person suffering from biblical leprosy?
Again, the Gemara explains that this sacrifice is an atonement for sin, not for ritual impurity. In response the Gemara points out that Rabbi Shmuel bar Nahmani says that every case of metzorah comes about as a result of one of seven different sins, so the sacrifice could be seen as acting as an atonement for one of those sins. The Gemara explains that further atonement is unnecessary, since the tzora’at itself acts as atonement.
What are the seven sins that lead one to become a metzorah?
Rabbenu Hananel lists them as follows:
Lashon ha-ra – spreading evil tidings
Shefihut damim – murder
Shevu’at shav – taking false oaths
Gilui arayot – sexual impropriety
Gasut ha-ru’ah – haughtiness
Tzarut ha-ayin – ill-will
Gezel – stealing
Tosafot argue that it appears to be clear that the sacrifices brought by the metzorah are not sin offerings for these underlying acts, since those sacrifices would never be brought if the person had not become a metzorah. The Rivan is quoted as answering that the sacrifices of a metzorah serve a dual purpose, both as part of the process of ritual purification, and also as an atonement for the underlying cause of the tzora’at.