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   by Jacob Solomon

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Second Series: No. 72

He (G-d) called to Moses. G-d said to him from the Tent of Meeting saying… “when a man amongst you brings an offering to G-d” (1:1-2).

The opening chapters of Leviticus deal with the details of the korbannot – offerings. As R. Samson Raphael Hirsch explains, the root of the word korban is karav – to approach. Moreover, the name of G-d that is used in connection with offerings is Hashem – representing His attribute of mercy, as opposed to Elokim, which has the connotation of justice (Sifra). Hirsch develops this by pointing out that idolaters believed that animal offerings were needed to appease the anger of a judgmental, bloodthirsty god. The Torah, in contrast, tells us that the offerings are a means to draw closer to Hashem – the Merciful G-d.

Let us develop this further. In what ways do the offerings and their values draw us nearer to G-d?

In response: amongst the many details of the korbannot that stand out in the text - look at the following:

  1. The Torah emphasized that ‘your’ offering must come mikem ‘from amongst you’ – instead of simply saying – ‘when you bring an offering’.

  2. If a bull, sheep, or goat is offered as a burnt offering, its innards (stomach and digestive organs) are washed, and then they form part of that burnt offering. However, in the case of birds, their stomach and digestive organs must be removed and thrown out (1:13,16).
  3. The Torah expressly demands the inclusion of salt, but forbids the addition of any honey to a meal offering.

Each one of these details, which are examined in turn, may be seen as a message about how one should approach and relate to G-d.

The first detail – mikem – ‘from you’ shows that Divine service must come ‘from you’. It must be sincere – not just an act of going through the motions. In this context the word mikem means that the offering must come from your sincere desire to come close G-d. Similarly today, prayer must also be mikem – to be fully acceptable, it should come from the heart – not merely the tongue.

The second detail – the non-acceptability of the bird’s digestive organs - illustrates that the Almighty desires us to serve Him where we respect the rights of other people. He does not wish us to be tzadikim (righteous people) at the expense of others. He does not want us to forget that there are also mitzvot between Man and Man, as well as Man and G-d. For, as Rashi explains, the innards of a domestic animal are acceptable as a burnt offering because they only eat what their owners give them. Pigeons and turtle doves, in contrast, eat from the property of others. This shows that G-d does not derive any pleasure or benefit from a forbidden object, or from something that has been realized by inappropriate means.

The requirement to include salt, but exclude honey in a meal offering tells us the importance of understanding that every servant of G-d is still an individual. Although the Torah requires people to live within the Halachic framework, it most emphatically, does not want us to become clones. To this end, R. Mordechai Gifter points out that honey fundamentally changes the taste of the food. Salt, however, enhances the food – bringing out its real taste. Therefore the Torah wishes us to recognize that every individual is created differently, and his relationship with G-d will be according to his individual gifts, abilities, and temperament. The teacher should arouse the student’s inner qualities and potential. He should be inspired to use his mind, think on his own, and synthesize what he has learnt according to his own individual ways of processing information and emotional make-up. The parents and teachers should respect the child for what he is, and direct him to an education program and way of life which are both in tune with his personality; which bring the best out of him. And when he serves G-d through prayer, he himself should see the text of the tefillot as a way of inspiring his own prayers which are likewise the expression of his own personal make-up and circumstances.

Today – without the Temple - prayer – avodah (service) of the heart replaces the avodah of the offerings. Yet the Talmud (Berachot 32b) states that from the time the Temple was destroyed, the gates of prayer were also locked. But the gates of tears were not locked. Rashi explains that the ‘gates of tears’ refers to another type of prayer – prayer with tears.

What brings a person to tears – that moment of truth when he is at one with the Almighty – varies from individual to individual. Different parts of the tefilla, different events in peoples lives, and even different days in the Jewish calendar bring out different things in different people. A person who receives a cloning upbringing and education will find it difficult to make the most of those rare moments of being deeply moved into great depths of feeling, with deep insight. Instead of seeing this as his unique path to deeper connection with G-d, he will feel self-conscious, and think that he is not quite like other people. Is he normal? By contrast, if he has been brought up and educated to respect and bring out the best in his own individuality, he will use those moments to indeed serve the Almighty with tears – the deep, personal, touching, and completely sincere contact with the Almighty…

This week I used an idea from R. Leib Scheinbaum, of the Hebrew Academy of Cleveland (Shema Yisrael web-site).



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