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by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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And he shall rend it by its wings, but without completely dividing it in two; and the priest shall burn it on the altar, on the wood that is on the fire; it is a burnt sacrifice, an offering, made by fire, of a sweet savor to G-d.
When Rabbi Yechiel Mordechal Gordon, the rosh yeshivah of Lomze Yeshivah, was in America, he used to learn with a thirteen year old boy and teach him two or three words of Rashl every day. The Rabbi would say to the boy, "Nu, my dear one, do you now understand the word? Say it again and again."
This scene would repeat itself every evening. The Rabbi, with great patience, would explain the words the boy had difficulty comprehending. The Rabbi's face would shine with contentment, and you could see the happiness sparkling in his eyes when the boy finally was able to repeat the few words of Rashi correctly.
The boy had not had any Jewish education previously, except for learning to read the siddur. His parents had only provided for a bar mitzvah and had not felt it necessary to give him any further Jewish education. But after his bar mitzvah, the boy had suddenly felt a strong thirst to learn Torah. After coming home from public, school, he would run to the local beis midrash with his Chumash in hand, and would ask everyone he could find there to explain a few words in the Chumash. Afterwards he would repeat these words to himself. Gradually, he learned many parashios, and later, with this method, he began learning Rashi.
The boy was fortunate one day to find Rabbi Gordon in the beis midrash. He, upon seeing the Rabbi sitting and learning, gathered up enough courage to ask him for help in his learning. The Rabbi did not know him, but was greatly impressed by his sincerity and tremendous efforts to understand the Torah. He took pity on the boy, and with great patience would learn with him every evening.
As a result of Rabbi Gordon's help, the boy progressed a great deal in Torah until he became a devout student of Rabbi Gordon, and eventually he even received semichah [ordination] from him.
Rabbi Gordon understood that success in Torah does not depend on a person's talents but rather on his love for and commitment to Torah learning. Similarly, success in marriage is largely determined by one's sincerity of heart.
"And he shall rend it apart by its wings, but without completely dividing it in two."1 Rabbi Yochanan said, "When a person smells the odor of wings he feels displeasure, and yet you say it shall be sacrificed upon the Altar? Why is it done? So that the Altar will gain the beauty of the sacrifice of a poor man."
Aggripas the King decided to bring one thousand burnt sacrifices in a single day. He also sent a message to the Kohen Gadol saying, "no one shall bring a sacrifice today except me."
A poor man, who had two doves in his hands, said to the priest, "Sacrifice these for me." He answered, "The King has commanded me that I shall not bring any sacrifice today besides his."
He [the poor man] replied, "my master, honored kohen, four pigeons do I catch everyday. I sacrifice two, and I have my sustenance from the other two If you do not sacrifice these, you will be cutting off my sustenance."
The kohen took them and sacrificed them.
Aggripas had a dream and was told in the dream, "The sacrifice of a poor man superceded yours [in importance] on the day you offered up your one thousand burnt sacrifices." He [Aggripas] sent a message to the kohen saying, "Did I not command you not to let anyone sacrifice on that day except me?"
He answered Aggripas, "A poor man had come with two pigeons in his hands. He told me, 'Sacrifice these for me.' I told him, 'The king has commanded me not to let anyone sacrifice today except for him.' He said to me, 'I catch four each day. Two I bring as a sacrifice and two I use for sustenance. If you do not sacrifice them, you will be cutting off my sustenance.' Could I have not sacrificed them?"
The King [Aggripas] replied to him, "All that you have done has been excellent."
What do our Sages mean when they say, "So that the Altar will gain the beauty of the sacrifice of a poor man"? Why is the story of Aggripas told in this midrash? Why did Aggripas command that no one else could bring a sacrifice on that day? What did the poor man mean when he said that by not sacrificing his two pigeons he would lose his sustenance, when the opposite seems to be true, that he would have had even more sustenance? Why would one single day without his regular offering cause him to lose his entire sustenance? Why was Aggripas told in the dream that the poor man's sacrifice superceded his? Why in the end did Aggripas condone the kohen's actions?
A poor man's offering is especially beautiful because he makes the difficult choice to bring it despite his meager income. G-d does not need any offering to be brought to the Altar, but He does desire a person's devotion, and an offering is the means by which a person shows this commitment to G-d. The verse says, "At this I will look, at a poor man and a broken spirit." 2 The willing heart of a poor man is clearly demonstrated when he gives far beyond his means. Similarly, Rabbi Gordon, in the above story, saw the pure heart of the boy, and therefore was willing to devote so much of his time to him. So, even though the bird's wings have an unpleasant odor, nevertheless, a dove is still a beauty for the Altar, since it allows a poor man to express his love for G-d.
A similar lesson is clearly being taught in the story of Aggripas. The poor man's sacrifice, two small doves, outweighed in importance Agrippas' one thousand oxen, even though the monetary value of the king's sacrifice was vastly greater. The moral of the story is that the cost of the item is largely irrelevant, but the devotion with which the sacrifice is given is really what determines its value. In the story, the poor man's devotion was much greater than that of Aggripas.
When we look at how much the poor man gave of what he had, we can understand the greatness of his sacrifice. For he gave half of his daily sustenance away every day. Most people give away a tenth or, at the most, a fifth, to charity. For a rich person this is hardly noticed, but for the poor man it is much more difficult, since he has so little left over.
Even greater than that was his belief and trust in G-d. He truly believed that his whole sustenance was dependent on giving away half his income to G-d. His daily offering was not just an expression of remarkable generosity; he understood it as the very basis of his livelihood. Without doing this great mitzvah of giving away half of what he had, he did not feel that he had the right to have any sustenance at all.
The king had only requested that he would be the only on, bringing sacrifices for one single day, so how could the Poor man claim that his entire sustenance would be cut off? This teaches us the extent of his piety. Of course a person can go one day without sustenance, especially since he already had the two pigeons that he needed for the day. But in his great piety, he truly felt that by losing even a single day of doing the mitzvah he could lose his sustenance forever. That explains why he said to the kohen that he must allow him to bring his sacrifice every day or else the kohen would be cutting off his sustenance.
Aggripas was overwhelmed by the piety of this poor man, and thus he agreed that the actions of the kohen were justified. It was a reflection of Aggripas' own righteousness, that he recognized that this poor man's small sacrifice was worth much more than his spectacular sacrifice of a thousand burnt offerings.
Being accepted by your spouse in marriage is similar to G-d accepting a sacrifice. Just as G-d is not looking for wealth, and even a thousand burnt offerings are worthless in His eyes if they are not given with a pure and willing heart, so too does your spouse only value what you do with sincerity and not simply a price tag. You can bring her diamonds, perfume, and expensive flowers, but if your heart is not in the giving, they will have no meaning at all. On the other hand, if you bring your spouse the smallest and simplest gift, but you act with all your heart and love, she will value it as if you brought her the most precious diamond in the world.
You cannot conceal from your spouse what is going on in your heart. You may be the greatest actor, but you cannot fool your spouse. So, therefore, the only way to improve your marriage is to work on your heart so that it is full of sincere and genuine love. Although we may not realize it, our hearts are controlled by our actions. The more we practice being kind and loving towards our spouses, the more our hearts will actually become kind and loving. Only actions which generate feelings of love can permanently influence the heart, because emotion alone can easily fade or disappear.
The poor man mentioned in the midrash was a master of giving. He had almost nothing and yet he gave so much. That is how we must learn to treat our spouses. No matter how little we have, we should constantly give of ourselves.
Marriage is an ongoing spiritual test, but not a contest of wills. Instead of having a winner and a loser, when both partners give, everyone wins.
1. Vayikrah 1:17
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network