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Parshas Vayikra - Vol. 11, Issue 24
Compiled by Oizer Alport
Last week we concluded Sefer Shemos, which revolved around the Exodus from Egypt, the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and the construction of the Mishkan. This week we begin Sefer Vayikra, which deals largely with the laws pertaining to the Mishkan and the Kohanim who served therein.
Parshas Vayikra introduces us to a number of the various Korbanos which were offered in the Mishkan and their pertinent laws. One of the sacrifices is the Korban Shelamim (Peace-Offering). In discussing the laws of a goat which is brought as a Peace-Offering, our verse requires the Kohen to burn all of its choicest parts on the Altar.
Interestingly, the Rambam writes (Hilchos Issurei Mizbeach 7:11) that this requirement wasn't specific to the Korban Shelamim. He derives from our verse that for the performance of every mitzvah, from the selection of which animal to offer as a sacrifice to the food and clothing donated to the poor, a person should use his finest possessions.
This concept is illustrated in the following story. One of the Gerrer Rebbes, the Imrei Emes, was once approached by one of his chassidim, who lamented that he had lost his tefillin. As tefillin are quite expensive, the man was worried that it would take him quite some time to save up the money to purchase a new pair.
Much to the chassid's relief, the Imrei Emes immediately took out a pair of tefillin to loan him until he was able to buy a new set. After giving him the tefillin, the Rebbe asked him to take extra precaution in protecting them. He explained that he had inherited this special pair of tefillin from his saintly father, the S'fas Emes.
After the chassid left, overjoyed about the change in his fortune, one of the close disciples of the Imrei Emes asked him why he was willing to part with such an irreplaceable and holy family heirloom when he could have easily attained a simple set of kosher tefillin to lend him. The Rebbe responded by quoting the words of the Rambam, who teaches that we must be willing to give up our most valuable possessions for the sake of Hashem's mitzvos.
After studying the inspiring stories of our forefathers in Sefer Bereishis and of their salvation from Egypt in Sefer Shemos, many people find it difficult to relate to the esoteric subjects discussed in Sefer Vayikra. Although the Rambam rules that the concept of using our choicest possessions applies to all mitzvos, perhaps one of the reasons it is taught in reference to the Korban Shelamim is to remind us that these sections of the Torah can be equally applicable to our daily lives.
Just as we wear our nicest clothing to a wedding and set the table with our finest china when hosting important guests, so too does the Torah teach us that this approach should carry over to spiritual matters, as we proudly use our most precious possessions to serve Hashem and do His mitzvos.
The Haftorah for Parshas Zachor records Shmuel's instructions to Shaul to kill all of the Amalekites and their animals. Why did Shaul specifically receive this mitzvah at this time? The Gemora in Sanhedrin (20b) teaches that when the Jewish people entered and conquered the land of Israel, they became obligated in three mitzvos: to appoint a king, to eradicate Amalek, and to build the Beis HaMikdash. The Gemora derives from Scriptural verses that these mitzvos must be performed specifically in this order, which is difficult to understand. Why is selecting a king a necessary prerequisite to eliminating Amalek, and why must we fight Amalek prior to building the Beis HaMikdash?
The Ramban (Shemos 17:16) maintains that the responsibility for leading the Jewish people in the war against Amalek is incumbent upon the king. The Radak explains that this is why Shmuel approached Shaul, who was the first Jewish king, to inform him that now that he has been appointed king, it is time to move on to the mitzvah of eradicating Amalek.
The Sefer HaIkkarim (24:4) suggests that this concept explains why Shaul was punished for his sin in this episode with the loss of his throne, whereas when his successor Dovid erred in his interactions with Batsheva and Uriah, he was able to continue serving as king.
He gives a mashal (parable) to illustrate the point. There was once a king who had two official scribes, each of whom committed a sin. The first scribe transgressed by forging official documents, while the second scribe's sin was personal and private in nature. Both of them were punished for their actions, but the first scribe was fired, while the second was permitted to keep his job. The king explained that the first scribe sinned in the very area in which he was employed, and because he failed to do his job faithfully, it was taken away from him. The second scribe, on the other hand, also committed a major sin, but because it was tangential to his work, he was allowed to remain in his position.
Similarly, destroying Amalek was not just another mitzvah that Shaul happened to receive. It went to the very heart and essence of being king, and by not fulfilling his mission, Shaul demonstrated that he was unfit for the position, so it was taken away from him. Dovid's sin, on the other hand, was not directly relevant to his role as king, and therefore although he was punished harshly for it, his punishment did not include the loss of his position.
Regarding the requirement to fight Amalek prior to building the Beis HaMikdash, Rav Aharon Kotler explains that in order to establish a place for the Shechinah (Divine Presence) to dwell in this world, the source of pure evil in the world must first be weakened and defeated. Wherever we find a successful war against Amalek, it is followed by the building of a holy structure. Shortly after Yehoshua defeated Amalek at the end of Parshas Beshalach came the construction of the Mishkan, Shaul fought them in the Haftorah before Shlomo could build the first Temple, and after Mordechai and Esther defeated Haman (who was descended from Amalek), the second Beis HaMikdash was built.
In addition to the linked timing, Rav Aharon brilliantly adds that the Mishkan spent most of its years in Shiloh, which was in the portion of Eretz Yisroel that belonged to the tribe of Ephraim, and for this reason, the building of the Mishkan was preceded by a battle against Amalek which was led by Yehoshua, who was from the tribe of Ephraim. Similarly, the Beis HaMikdash was built in the portion of land that belonged to the tribe of Binyomin, and it was therefore preceded by a war against Amalek led by Shaul, who came from the tribe of Binyomin. The rebuilding of the second Temple occurred just after Haman was defeated by Mordechai, who was also from the tribe of Binyomin.
However, part of the Beis HaMikdash was located in the portion of land that belonged to the tribe of Yehuda. For this reason, before Shlomo could build the first Beis HaMikdash, Amalek also had to be defeated by Dovid (Shmuel 1 30:1-20), who came from the tribe of Yehuda. Even though Mordechai was biologically from the tribe of Binyomin, he is also referred to as (Esther 2:5) Ish Yehudi, which the Gemora (Megillah 12b) interprets to mean that his father was from Binyomin, but his mother was from Yehuda, which uniquely qualified him to be the perfect foil to Amalek's descendant Haman.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) The Torah commands (5:23) a thief to return the item that he stole. If somebody stole an esrog and returned it after Sukkos ended, did he fulfill the mitzvah of returning the stolen object? (Pri Megadim Orach Chaim 656, Pischei Teshuvah Choshen Mishpat 363:1)
2) Rashi writes (Devorim 25:19) that in order to completely blot out the memory of Amalek, we must also destroy the possessions of the Amalekites so that their name shouldn't be mentioned in conjunction with them. How was Esther permitted to accept the house of Haman (Esther 8:1), who was descended from Amalek? (Shu"t Oneg Yom Tov Introduction, Shem MiShmuel Purim, Imrei Emes, Nesivos Rabboseinu, Taima D'Kra Esther, Ma'adanei Asher 5769)
3) Although Shaul was commanded by Shmuel to kill all of the Amalekites, he had compassion on their king Agag and temporarily allowed him to remain alive (Shmuel 1 15:9), a sin for which he was harshly rebuked and punished. Chazal teach that on that night, Agag impregnated his wife, who gave birth to a child from whom Haman was eventually descended (Megillah 13a). Additionally, prior to killing Agag, Shmuel told him that just as his sword had made women childless, so too would his mother now lose her son (Shmuel 1 15:33), which seems to imply that Agag's mother was still alive. Why weren't his wife and mother killed together with the rest of the Amalekites, or at least together with Agag, as his wife survived for at least nine months in order to give birth to her newly-conceived child? (Taima D'Kra, Mishbetzos Zahav)
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