Friday, March 27, 2009

Parshat Vayikra - פרשת ויקרא

And so we start a new book in the Torah with Parshat Vayikra. This week I have two short דברי תורה.

My first דבר תורה is taken from a few sources on the Pasuk, "ונפש כי-תקריב קרבן מנחה לה' סלת יהיה קרבנו ויצק עליה לבנה - When a person makes a meal offering to Hashem, his offering shall be of fine flour; he shall pour oil upon it, and place frankincense upon it." (פרק ב, פסוק א)

Each week I receive a weekly d'var torah and the one I received this morning got me thinking. The d'var torah presents the Lubavitcher Rebbe's interpretation of the voluntary sacrifice mentioned in this pasuk. He poses a question and then proceeds to answer it, but I shall give an alternative answer, if I may.

In brief, he raises the point that the word Nefesh, meaning "soul" is used. Only for the offering of the poor person is the word "Nefesh" used. Why is this?

The basis of his answer is that unlike the wealthy person, who can give expensive offerings of the finest animals and birds to the Bet Hamikdash, the poor man can only give flour. As the D'var Torah says, though, "Nevertheless, the Torah attributes more significance to the poor man's offering, as Rashi writes on Verse 1 'I consider it as if he offered his very soul!'"

What does it mean that his offering is reckoned as if it were his very soul? The answer I shall attempt to give is very functional - that the rich man can freely donate expensive wines to the Bet Hamikdash, and give choice birds and animals to be offered up on the altar, but the poor man's simple meal offering is worth far more to him.

The word Nefesh is specifically used because the poor man does not know where his next meal is coming from, and yet he manages to give up some of his own meager food and offer it before Hashem. It makes no difference to the rich man how much he gives to be offered up, he knows that he will be well fed at the next meal - but the poor man forgoes his self.

Rabbi David Feinstein comments on the second pasuk of the parsha, "אדם כי-יקריב מכם קרבן לה - When a man shall bring from you an offering to Hashem," saying that the seemingly unnecessary מכם, from you, indicates that when one brings an offering to the slaughter, he should realise thar truly the one who should be slaughtered is none other than himself. Hashem grants us a chance at t'shuvah, but it is only through his rachamim that we are permitted to survive so much as a second after sinning. The word מכם indicates that when one brings such an offering, he must have the conviction that he should really have brought the offering literally from himself, and not from some "animal surrogate."

Even though we no longer have a Bet Hamikdash, we can still learn a valuable lesson in regret. When we wrong a human we often go out of our way to apologise to and placate them. But when it comes to lapses in our spiritual obligations it seems that all too often we shrug and say, "Oh well." If we understand the message here, and adopt a genuine and serious attitude towards sin, we can be sure that we can do our best to avoid lapses in the future.

The second D'var Torah is a short one. In פרק ג, we are introduced to the זבח שלומים, the peace offering. Rav Zalman Sorotzkin comments here, saying that the word שלום, meaning peace, is also connected to another word - שלימות, completeness. The זבח שלומים was not brought by one in the manner of a sin or guilt-offering, nor was it akin to the Olah brought for a less significant sin.

The Shlamim was different in that it is not attributed to one's need to atone for a sin. Rather, the Shlamim indicates a sense of wholesomeness as it was brought by a pure person who uses their sense of free will to pay tribute to Hashem. This is what completeness means.

In today's society, the prevalent mindset is to declare that "We are all individuals," (To coin a phrase!) but if we stop to think about things, what is wrong with being part of something bigger? By being part of a bigger entity, and recognising one's role in life and towards Hashem, we can all achieve a very fulfilling sense of completeness.

Wishing you a שבת שלום!

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