The Unforgivable Sin

“We of today are not at home with the idea of sin because we are alien to God and His demands upon our lives.”

Today’s sermon deals with a seemingly strange story from the Book of Leviticus.  Two young priests commit a sin during the offering of a burnt sacrifice: they substitute a counterfeit fire of their own making for the holy fire.  God does not forgive them; “there came forth fire from before the Lord and devoured them, and they died before the Lord.”

Rabbi Olan responds that “for a God who is merciful and forgiving to kill them on the spot is beyond our understanding or sympathy.”  In a secular world lacking any real connection to the concept of sin, Olan asks, what is the meaning of this passage?  What was so unforgivable?

Olan seeks answers in examples of people substituting the counterfeit for the genuine in our society: in marriage, in parenting and teaching, in religion.

“The counterfeit gods of our time are many,” he argues.  “Most of them are creatures whom we have created and who do for us what we want.  They promise us peace of mind in a world where we ought to be disturbed.  They bless war, sanction poverty, accept prejudice.  Never since the pre-Biblical days has religion been so dedicated to idolatry, to the worship of the gods men have created, than in our generation.”

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(Rabbi Olan quotes Heinrich Heine. This sermon was originally broadcast on January 5, 1964.)

*Written by Joshua Hirsch.*