Parshat HaShavua - VAYIKRA
Contributed by: Rabbi Nissim Mordechai Makor
This week's Torah reading, Vayikra, begins the third book of the Torah, Leviticus. Last week we completed the reading of the book of Exodus, which concluded with a description of the construction of the Tabernacle. This week's portion provides a description of the various sacrificesoffered by the priests in the newly constructed Sanctuary.
The basic concept which we must contemplate is inherent in the word for offering: korban. This word finds its root in the letters kuf, reish, and beis, which form the root word to draw near. At a simple level, this indicates that the animal is sanctified and brought close to God through the sacrifice produce. At a deeper level, the whole sequence of the sacrifice, in which the owner of the offering selects the animal, brings it to the Beis HaMikdash, confesses over it (if appropriate), watches as the Kohanim offer it on the altar, and then easts some parts of it, brings the owner closer to God. Indeed, this is the whole idea of an offering: it deepens the relationship between the owner and God; it brings them closer together.
Just as the achievement of closeness between man and God is the force behind all offerings, so too, opposite forces exist in the world which try to pull apart this special bond. These are known as “the Four Kingdoms.” Each of the four nations, the kingdoms of Babylon, Media, Greece, and Edom, who at various stages in Jewish history have oppressed klal Yisrael, represent in one way or another an attempt to destroy the relationship between us and God. The function of Klal Yisrael is to be a vehicle for the Divine Presence in the world through their observance of Torah and Mitzvos. The primary opposing nations of the world [the above mentioned four] attempted, in different ways, to frustrate this holy aim. Each nation tried to prevent klal Yisrael from performing the mitzvos.
The Shem MiShmuel writes that klal Yisrael are essentially the agents of God and that the primary nations oppose this, is fundamental to our worldview. In fact, according to Kabbalistic, the four letters of the name of God, yod, hei, vav, and hei, are opposed by the four nations. This clearly expresses the idea that the nations’ resistance to klal Yisrael is really opposition to God. The four greatest specimens of humanity, the Avos [Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov) and David haMelech are also said to be the antithesis of these wicked nations.
We can understand this a little more deeply by examining one further correspondence. There are three cardinal sins, murder, sexual Immorality, and idolatry, which one must never transgress, even on pain of death. Lashon hara (evil talk about others) is considered, in some ways, worse than all of these.
Each of the four nations “specialized” in one of these four cardinal sins and was the root and primary source of it in this world. In contradistinction, Klal Yisrael is built upon great people whose very nature It was to oppose and overcome these cardinal transgressions. Avraham excelled at overcoming sexual immorality. When he approached Egypt (the most sexually immoral nation of the ancient world) he said to his wife Sarah.
Avraham was so holy in these matters that until it was essential for external reasons he didn’t realize that his own wife was beautiful. We see that Yitzchak excelled at overcoming idolatry by the fact that he was prepared to sacrifice himself for God. This represents sacrifice for God’s will rather than to the alternative idolatry. Yaakov overcame the evil of murder. We see this from the fact that he was exceptionally careful with his own procreative activities. Failure in this is considered by the great Rabbi’s to be akin to murder. Finally, David Ha Melech excelled at correct use of his power of speech, for he is best known as the composer of Tehillim [Psalms], the most comprehensive and beautiful set of praises to God.
In fact, David was the last stage in the process of rectification begun with Avraham, had everything continued according to plan, the final stage of history would have been reached, in which man and God would live in perfect harmony, the barriers erected by sin finally removed. In fact, Chazal tell us:
Had David not listened to lashon hara, the kingdom of the House of David would not have been divided, and had Yisrael not committed idolatry, we would not have been exiled from our land. [Shabbos 56b].
Although David’s sin was very slight, in order to effect a total rectification, he needed to be absolutely perfect and utterly devoid of lashon hara. Alas, he was not and so the quest for perfection continues to this day.
When a person mediates on what is done to the sacrifice, his heart becomes contrite. He says, “I am the one who deserved all these punishments, but in His great compassion God had mercy on me and did not want to kill me. This animal is coming in my place.”
The person bringing the sacrifice will then regret all that he has done and change his ways.
The Me’am Lo’ez teaches us that the majority of things that people do involves three faculties; THOUGHT, SPEECH AND DEED.
When a person wants to do something, he first thinks about it in his mind. Then he expresses his thought in speech. Only then does he actually do it. Therefore, when a person brings a sacrifice he must do the 3 things that he did when he sinned.
First he must do a deed: press his hands on the animal’s head. This parallels his action.
Then he must recite the confession (viduy). He must confess before G-d the sin that he has done. This parallels the speech involved in his sin. This parallels the speech involved in his sin.
The portions of the animal that are burned are those which involve thought and emotion, the inner organs and kidneys. This parallels the thought that he had when he committed the sin.
This is one reason for the sacrifices. They are designed to make a person’s heart contrite, to arouse him to repent.
The second explanation that some give is that G-d commanded us to bring the sacrifices so that the Cohen-priests would have a livelihood. The priests therefore needed some income so that they could live with their minds to serve God. The sacrifices were thus like giving hidden charity to the priests.
Furthermore, there is judgement when one brings a sacrifice. As a result of the sacrifice a person’s heart becomes contrite and he repents. This is what is desired by G-d, not the sacrifice itself.
The third reason that some cite is that the sacrifice is like a fine imposed against a sinner, causing him to spend money. If he has a monetary loss because of his sin, he will not do it again. He will realize that the sin has been very expensive for him.
The fourth reason given by some authorities is that a person should meditate and have his heart aroused. When the animal is brought as a sacrifice, the person sees that it is slaughtered and burned and reduced to ashes. When he contemplates this, he realizes that this is the final end of man. When a person meditates on this, he will not follow worldly enjoyments. He will realize that it is all vanity. A person brings nothing to the next world the observances of commandments and good deeds and the charity that he does in this world. When a person meditates on the day of death, his heart becomes contrite. His dedication to Judaism is then renewed. This is why the Torah mandates that 3 parts of an animal be burned. The fat, the kidneys and the lobe [or diaphragm] of the liver. The following 3 things that cause a person to sin. 1) The fat causes a person to sin. 2) The kidneys are responsible for advice and emotion. These emotions bring a person to sin. 3) The liver makes a person lose his temper, it makes him feel important and proud. This causes him to be drawn after worldly desires and not be destroyed by them. These 3 particular parts of the body are burned on the alter to teach that a person must remove all bad traits and worldly desires and not be destroyed by them. What God really desires as a sacrifice is that a person’s heart should become contrite when he sees how the sacrifice ends up. He must realize that his end will be the same as that of the sacrifice. When a person contemplates this he will be sure to repent.
The fifth reason given by some authorities is that God commanded us to bring sacrifices to wean the Israelites away from idolatry. God complains to the Israelites who worship idols, “I commanded your fathers to bring sacrifices not because I receive any benefit from them, rather, I commanded them to bring sacrifices to keep you away from idolatry. I did not want you to think there is any substance to these pagan gods. You would then worship Me and listen to My voice and allow Me to be your God. The only reason for sacrifice is to keep you from idolatry.”
Yeshiva Pirchei Shoshanim