Me’ilah (or “ma’al”) is the term used here for use of an item from the holy for a purpose other than the Mikdash (temple) for which it was intended.
Text: Vayikra 5:15-16
15 “If a person betrays trust (ma’al), and sins unintentionally regarding the holy things of the LORD, then he shall bring to the LORD as his guilt offering a ram without blemish from the flocks, with its valuation in shekels of silver according to the shekel of the sanctuary, as a guilt offering. 16 And he shall make restitution for the harm that he has done in regard to the holy thing, and shall add one-fifth to it and give it to the kohen. So the kohen shall make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering, and it shall be forgiven him.
- Why might me’ilah—betrayal of trust, wrongly using holy things—be considered something that requires atonement by sacrifice, restitution, and an additional one-fifth of the value?
- All this is conditioned on the person having acted unintentionally. What does the process mentioned here do for the unintentional sinner?
Commentary: R. Saadiah Gaon on Vayikra 5:15
Betrays trust—it is an issue of breaking a covenant or a command.
- How is using what is intended for something else (especially for the holy) a form of breaking a covenant? What was that covenant about? Between whom and whom is the covenant?
Commentary: Rashi on Vayikra 5:15
Betrays trust (ma’al)—The term ma’al everywhere in Scripture denotes “changing”. As it says, (I Chronicles 5:25) “And they committed a ma’al against the God of their fathers; for they went a whoring after the gods of the people of the land”. And similarly, it states of the faithless wife, (Numbers 5:12) “[If any man’s wife goes aside] and commit a ma’al to him”.
- What kind of change is Rashi referring to?
- How do you understand ma’al in Vayikra considering that the Torah discusses an unintentional action?
Commentary: R. David Zvi Hoffman on Vayikra 5:14
The meaning of ma’al, is as Ibn Ezra already explained: A cover (from here comes the word ‘me’il’ – a coat, the outer garment) meaning “covering his action” or “acting by deceit and treachery”, and so clothing (‘beged’, the same root as boged=traitor) enables cover up and treachery.
- If the person mistakenly used what was intended for the holy, where is the lie and the cover up?
- R. D.Z. Hoffman considers me’ila (ma’al) to be a form of betrayal. Who is betrayed and how? According to the linguistic connection to garments, when might we be at risk of ma’al on a social level?
See more: Parashat Vayikra
Originally posted as part of the Conservative Yeshiva at the Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center’s Torah Sparks. Support Torah learning from the Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center/Conservative Yeshiva for leaders and seekers around the world here.