Thursday, March 18, 2010

Parshat Vayikra - פרשת ויקרא

" וְנֶפֶשׁ, כִּי-תַקְרִיב קָרְבַּן מִנְחָה לַיהוָה--סֹלֶת, יִהְיֶה קָרְבָּנוֹ; וְיָצַק עָלֶיהָ שֶׁמֶן, וְנָתַן עָלֶיהָ לְבֹנָה - And when a man (lit. soul) will bring a meal-offering to Hashem, his offering shall be of fine flour; and he shall pour oil upon it, and put frankincense thereon."
- ויקרא ב:א

Just a quick D'var Torah this week as I have an exam tomorrow morning. Still, I like the point being made and I hope you will too. In Rashi's commentary on the verse above, we read that "It doesn't say 'Nefesh' (a soul) with the other voluntary offerings, rather only with the Mincha offering. [And] Who is it that gives the Mincha? A poor person. So Hashem says, 'I will consider it on his behalf as if he offered his own soul.'"

Rashi makes a profound point here, namely that the Hebrew word for soul is employed here for a particular reason. Whereas it would normally use Adam (man), here the word Nefesh (soul) is used to show that the sacrifice of a poor person is considered to be of the highest value in Hashem's eyes; so much so that he considers these kinds of offerings to be as if the giver had given of their soul, whatever that may mean. Now, we can certainly understand why the word "Nefesh/soul" is employed here, but it still seems a little odd. What bothered Rashi so much that he had to explain this usage?

To answer, I'd like to refer to a point made by Rav Shimshon Rephael Hirsch in his commentary to the Torah. He explains that the opening words of the pasuk "And when a soul will bring" can be read in more than one way. We can either read this phrase literally as "when a soul brings a mincha offering," or we can interpret these words to mean "when a soul is brought as a mincha offering." In the offerings that are described preceding this one, the blood of a slaughtered animal, it's very lifeblood, was a part of the sacrifice. This blood made up the "soul" of the offering that was given to Hashem.

The word Mincha, when used in it's regular sense, can be taken to mean a gift, a present. This seems at odds with the Mincha offering itself, for in actuality it was only a very simple thing, consisting of nothing more than wheat flour, oil, frankincense and sometimes some water added — hardly a fancy five course meal. Despite this, because the person deprived himself so that he could to give something, despite his circumstances, Hashem finds his seemingly meagre gift to be a real source of pleasure.

As such, whereas the soul of an animal is the essence of those previous offerings, compared to this offering that consists of but a few ingredients, none of which are expensive or require the (costly) slaughter of an animal, this offering is still regarded highly by Hashem. Perhaps this is because, in Rav Hirsch's words, or at least in the words of his translator, "the Nefesh is not the Korban, but the Makriv." The soul of this offering is not found in the offering, but in the offerer himself.

Isaac Levy, the man who translated Rav Hirsch's commentary from German to English, points out something intriguing in the English version of the Rav Hirsch's edition of the Torah. He explain there that in the section detailing the sin offerings, the name of Hashem used above, the name that is associated with absolute justice (as opposed to another name of God which refers to mercy) is not referred to even once. It's absence serves to teach us that each and every time we sin, Hashem mercifully temporarily suspends true justice.

Rav David Feinstein makes a similar observation on the second pasuk of the parsha. There we read the words, "אדם כי-יקריב מכם קרבן לה, When a man shall bring from you an offering to Hashem." Rav Feinstein notes that one word, מכם, from you, seems to be superfluous. The reason it is written, he says, is so as to indicate that when one brings an offering to the slaughter, he should realise that truly the one who should be slaughtered is none other than himself. Hashem grants us a chance at repenting, but it is only through His mercy that we are permitted to survive so much as a second after sinning. The word מכם teaches 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 correcting our mistakes, we can be sure that we can do our best to avoid lapses in the future.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom!

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