"If one commits a sin unintentionally[and] if his sin that he committed is made known to him, he shall bring his sacrifice: an unblemished female goat, …a sin offering." (Levit. 4:27-28)

"If a person commits a betrayal and trespasses unintentionally against [one] of the things sacred to the L‑rd, he shall bring as his guilt offering to the L‑rd an unblemished ram from the flock…." (Ibid. 5:15)

There are two basic explanations of how sacrificing an animal atones for sin:

The animal personifies the animal instincts of the sinner...
  1. Sacrificing the animal is an enactment of what ought to be done to the sinner. The sinner should imagine all that is being done to the animal being done to him. The sacrifice thus jolts the sinner out of his negative ways. (Nachmanides on Levit. 1:9)
  2. The animal personifies the animal instincts of the sinner, which led to the sin, whereas the sinner’s true essence, his Divine soul, did not participate in the sin. This realization stirs the sinner’s Divine soul, inspiring him to renew his devotion God and to serve Him better than previously.

The first explanation is harsher than the second and is therefore appropriate for more severe sins. Therefore, the “guilt-offering,” (Below, 5:14-26, 7:1-7; Numbers 5:5-8) which can atone for deliberate sins, is brought from male animals, suggesting the "male" type of meditation necessary to shake a person free from deliberate sins. The second, softer, more "female" type of meditation is more appropriate for unintentional sins; therefore, the "sin-offering," which atones for such sins, is brought from female animals.

Similarly, nowadays, when an individual feels estranged from God, he must evaluate what is causing this feeling. Then he can meditate on his relationship with God in the way appropriate to his situation and awaken himself to Divine reality.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, vol. 32, pp. 16-17
© 2001 Chabad of California/www.LAchumash.org