In describing the Yom Kippur service, the Torah tells us that “with this shall Aharon enter the Holy, with a bull that is ben bakar as a sin offering, and a ram as a burnt offering.” (16:3)
Elsewhere the term ben bakar (literally, “child of cattle”) is used to distinguish the age of an animal. For example an eigel (calf) is less than a year old, while an eigel ben bakar is a little older.
When the term par (bull) is utilized, however, the term ben bakar would seem superfluous in the sense of defining age, simply because a bull is by definition an adult animal.
But the greater question is what is this verse telling us as far as what Aharon brings with him into the Holy? Many commentaries jump on the opening word of the verse, b’zot (with this), noting that the Hebrew word has a gematria (numerical value) of 410 which is how long the first Temple stood. Aharon carries with him the merit of the first Temple.
Ramban quotes a Midrash that Aharon brings with him the merit of zot, a word used to describe many other mitzvoth and qualities, all based on the utilization of the word zot throughout the Bible. The merits he carries with zot include: the Torah (Devarim 4:44), the Covenant of Circumcision (Bereshit 17:10), Shabbos (Isaiah 56:2), Jerusalem (Exekiel 5:5), the tribes (Bereshit 49:28), Judah ((Devarim 33:7), the Congregation of Israel (Song of Songs 7:8), Terumah (donations) (Shmot 25:3), Tithes (Malachi 3:10), and the merit of the offerings in general.
So why the bull and the ram? After all, we learned in Parshat Shmini that Aharon brought a calf as a sin-offering at the time of the dedication of the Mishkan, and many connect his calf offering there as meaning to bring atonement for his involvement in making the Golden Calf.
Considering, as Kli Yakar notes, that Aharon’s involvement in the Golden Calf episode was mild — he helped fashion the calf, but never worshiped it, danced before it, or honored it any way — one would think that his calf sin-offering at that time would suffice! And yet, some want to make the connection that the bull is the father of the calf, and Aharon must atone on Yom Kippur for the sin yet again, utilizing the father.
Alshikh has a different view, owing to the reality of the experience of the Kohen Gadol, and the burden he truly carries on his shoulders on Yom Kippur. He is representing everyone and therefore needs all the help he can get.
When we think about the time period of the High Holidays, one of the main themes of Remembrance is our asking G-d to remember the merit of the forefathers.
So Alshikh recalls how when Avraham hosted the 3 malachim (angels or messengers of G-d), he fed them ben bakar. And when Yitzchak was bound on the altar at the top of Mt. Moriah, a ram was ultimately offered in his place.
We often tend to whitewash our own deeds and see ourselves in the right. Most of us would probably justify everything we do that is questionable, where our judgment may not have been top-notch, when our choice in retrospect or in hindsight was not the best. If we could only look back at the things we did with unbiased eyes, we would see a very different picture than the one we paint with our personal rose-colored glasses.
As such, we need the merit of the forefathers, because we know who they were and we know how G-d perceived and continues to perceive them. Reminding Him of them in our own words and deeds, is only to our benefit.
Which leads me to a very simple observation. We are never judgmental of ourselves. We don’t even need the merit of the forefathers to excuse our bad behaviors. So why are we so judgmental of others? Why do we have such trouble giving people a second chance, perhaps through the merit of our shared forefathers?