Parshat Vayikra (1:1-5:26)
(Translated from the Hebrew original)
Parshat Vayikra focuses on the various types of korbanot / offerings that a person could offer. In the modern age, most people find it difficult to connect to a world of korbanot, for several reasons. Some are skeptical that sacrificing an animal could lead to atonement. They say this is too simple to be an effective way of correcting a person’s misdeeds. Others cower at the fate of animals who give their lives for the sins of humans. There may even be those who feel queasy when picturing a slaughterhouse with thousands of animals, serving as the place in which the Divine Presence inhabits.
Some of these concerns were shared by the prophets of Israel, who warned of the dangers of thinking that a korban can substitute for genuine teshuva / repentance, and for the hard work we must do to make proper amends.
One verse, however, might shed some light on the subject and refocus our view. When presenting the various options of korbanot, the verse begins with a person’s voluntary offering:
“… when a person who will bring an offering from among you, an offering to Hashem.” (Vayikra / Leviticus 1:2)
Something in the syntax of the verse seems a bit off. In proper Hebrew, we would say “when a person FROM AMONG YOU will bring an offering…”, since the phrase “from among you” describes those bringing the offering. In this verse, however, it looks like the phrase isn’t in its most natural location.
Our sages learned from this verse that the sacrifice must be made out of the possessions of the one sacrificing, and not from stolen property. This prompts an obvious question: why would anyone ever consider bringing a sacrifice from stolen property?!
It turns out that everything is possible in life. A person might entertain the thought that he could atone for an act of theft by making a big donation to a synagogue, or by bringing a distinguished sacrifice to the Holy Temple. This is why the Torah says “… who will bring an offering from among you…”. Your sacrifice must always be from your own possessions, and it can never be made at the expense of anyone else.
Any progress made in worshipping Hashem needs to originate solely in the worshipper, and not at someone else’s expense. An ancient adage states that the ways of man are to become concerned for their material situation, and for the spiritual state of everyone else. It is time for us to reverse this skewed norm and worry about the material state of others, and about our own spiritual state. This is why the Torah emphasizes that the offering is made “from among you”, and not from among others.
However, another way of understanding this verse is that by saying “…when a person who will bring an offering from among you…”, the Torah is hinting at the need to offer up something that belongs to us, something tied to our identities and personalities. I cannot approach Hashem if I am not doing everything of myself, out of the very sources of my being, using all of my creative powers. I can’t rely on others to do this for me.
When our sages depicted the world of sacrifices, they wanted us to imagine a world in which we would ostensibly be offering up ourselves to our Creator. This is a world where people are fully devoted to their ideas, without any falsehoods, as if they themselves were being offered up on the altar.
Today, when cynicism all too often seems to dictate our actions, it is important to remember that there is a world in which people give up their lives for their ideas. There are those who forfeit their lives in the army, for the purpose of settling the land, for the sake of Torah study, or for scientific research. Our world is sustained by those who submit themselves on the altar of their ideas, without hesitation.
The verse “…when a person who will bring an offering from among you” can have another painful and even terrifying message. Over the generations, the Jewish People has paid with its blood for being what it is. Every so often, events occur that remind all of us what being a Jew really means, even in a progressive and enlightened world. Our identity is the very epitome of what the forces of evil are trying to fight.
We will continue to aspire to draw nearer to ourselves and our vision, even if, in the long run, we will need to offer up cherished souls from among us – “when a person who will bring an offering from among you”.
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