“Parsha to the Point” – Emor 5777

Parshat Emor (Leviticus 21:1 – 24:23)

Rabbi David Stav 

This week’s Torah portion, Emor, while covering a wide range of topics, relates to the prohibition of sacrificing blemished animals: “And if a man offers up a peace offering to the Lord…it shall be unblemished; it shall not have any defect in it” [Lev. 22:21]. Later on, the Torah provides a long list of blemishes that disqualify an animal from being brought as a sacrifice.

Anyone reading the verse is puzzled. This is a voluntary sacrifice; no one was required to go through with it. The Torah even emphasizes this by prefacing that the individual had offered, or vowed to offer, a sacrifice of his own free will! Why would anyone offering a voluntary sacrifice produce an animal with a blemish? Wouldn’t we logically assume that the person would bring the best available animal? After all, if he didn’t want to sacrifice a suitable, healthy animal, why would he have volunteered to do so in the first place?

This becomes even more baffling when we remember that Kayin, the son of Adam, offered a sacrifice to Hashem of his own volition, and according to our Sages, that sacrifice was of inferior quality. Why would he have done such a thing? Later, the prophet Malachi chastised the nation for offering sacrifices of stolen or blemished animals.

How did this happen – or rather, why did this happen? What transpires in the soul of a person who suddenly decides to offer a sub-par sacrifice?

Could the Torah be attempting to address a number of well-known human traits? The first is the feeling of intense enthusiasm that fades over time. We often see this when aliyahs are auctioned off at the synagogue, and certain individuals are intent on showing everyone else what they are capable of, or how generous they can be. But once they return home, the enthusiasm simply subsides.

A radio host might be collecting donations and taking calls from donors, which are broadcast live. The donors get swept away and commit to donating, but their enthusiasm subsequently fizzles out.

In other words, maintaining enthusiasm over time is no simple feat. Sometimes, things that catch fire quickly are also extinguished quickly, so we need to warn enthusiasts not to “cool down” too quickly.

This process occurs in another way, too. After a friend grows excited and wants to contribute a sizable donation, he might ask himself: “Does Hashem really really care whether I bring Him a fancy sacrifice or a more modest one? After all, human beings are much more impressed by external appearances.” That person would build his house out of top-quality materials. He’d buy a new car once every few years.

Hashem, though, doesn’t need any of this, he says, so he could just find some poor animal with a limp and sacrifice it. Indeed, Hashem doesn’t need fat nor skinny animals. We, humans, need our fat sacrifices. We must become accustomed to the idea that we need to assign the things we believe in the highest priority and status.

These types of excuses will serve to help people “lighten the load” of prioritizing the things they value. Any attempt to offer a meager sacrifice based on ideological grounds is merely the result of a person giving in to his materialistic nature, while using ideology to justify his behavior.

An ancient Jewish adage states that it is better for a person to worry about other people’s materialism, and about his own spirituality and values. However, most people prefer reversing their priorities, and getting preoccupied with their own materialism and with the spirituality of others.

The Torah cautions us, telling us that once a person decides to make a particular value paramount, he must nurture that value wholeheartedly, and give it his best. If not, he might be inclined to think that going through the motions was good enough.

We can add another dimension to this commandment. The verse specifies that “it should be tamim (unblemished)”, and only afterwards does it state that it should not have any defect. A simple interpretation could be that the word tamim is the positive aspect of the prohibition of offering a blemished animal. According to this explanation, the word tamim concerns the offering itself – it must be complete, not lacking or blemished.

However, another way of understanding the word tamim is that it concerns the person making the offering. Anyone who brings an offering must be tamim – he must have come to terms with his decision to bring an offering. No second thoughts, and no excuses. He needs bring his offering wholeheartedly, and not be wishy-washy about it. A person must do everything in his power to ensure that the sacrifice he brings is an expression of his acceptance of what he has done.

We often experience second thoughts when we reflect on a chosen course of action for ourselves, or our families. After deciding what we want to do, we must charge ahead, fully motivated, without looking back – and keep to our objective. We do this not because we are certain we haven’t erred, but because when we choose something, we must feel complete, not lacking. We must believe that we are walking down the right path – and we must always keep our objective in our sights.

[Translated from the Hebrew by Ilan Yavor]

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