Parsha Potpourri: Parshas Vayikra


Vayikra el Moshe vayedaber Hashem eilav me’Ohel Moed leimor (1:1)

Parshas Vayikra teaches the laws governing several of the offerings that were brought in the Beis HaMikdash. However, in addition to introducing us to this new topic, this week’s parsha is unique in that there is an ancient custom for children who are beginning to learn Chumash for the first time to start with the study of Parshas Vayikra, which is difficult to understand. Instead of the esoteric subject of sacrifices, wouldn’t it make sense to begin with episodes from Sefer Bereishis with which the children are familiar and to which they can relate more easily?

The Medrash (Vayikra Rabbah 7:3) cryptically comments that because the offering of sacrifices restores and enhances one’s purity, it is appropriate for young children, who are naturally pure, to begin their studies here. However, Rav Shimshon Pinkus questions this explanation. Although the students and the subject matter may share similarities, what value can there be in teaching these concepts to young children who are incapable of grasping the intricate laws and underlying ideas behind the various offerings?

Rav Pinkus elucidates the Medrash’s explanation with an analogy to a case of a simple villager who amasses enough money to purchase his first automobile. Excited to show off his new purchase, he drives it everywhere until one day, it suddenly refuses to move. Stunned and baffled by this turn of events, he turns for advice to a more sophisticated acquaintance, who advises him to refill the gas tank.

In his ignorance, the villager argues that enough damage has been done through his prized possession ceasing to function. Adding dirty, smelly water to the vehicle could only make the bad situation worse. His friend patiently explains that because the villager didn’t produce the car, he is incapable of understanding how it works. The manufacturer, who is intimately familiar with its every last detail, has made it known that only foul-smelling gasoline is capable of enabling it to continue functioning properly.

Similarly, even the most experienced educator lacks the ability to fully comprehend the neshama (soul) of a child due to the simple fact that he didn’t make it. Hashem, Who inserts each precious soul into a Jewish child and possesses the unique understanding of its inner workings, has declared that the essence of the soul is its pure source from just underneath His Throne of Glory. As such, He recognizes that the “fuel” so vital to the successful growth and nourishment of the neshama is the pure study of sacrifices.

Alternatively, Rabbi Chaim Zvi Senter homiletically suggests that the reason for the practice of introducing children to Torah study with the subject of sacrifices is to teach them early on that a vital and critical component of Judaism is the need to sacrifice. Whether it involves sacrificing our hard-earned money to share it with the less fortunate, sacrificing our valuable time in order to pray and do mitzvos, or sacrificing potential pleasure by abstaining from forbidden but tempting foods, it is essential that an observant Jew be willing to give up things that he cherishes and desires in order to fulfill Hashem’s will.

This philosophy stands in stark contrast to the contemporary attitude that a person has the right to selfishly pursue his own personal happiness and immediate gratification at all costs, unencumbered by a concern for others. In order to inculcate Jewish children with the appropriate perspective and value system, we therefore specifically begin their study of Torah by teaching them the concept of sacrificing personal comfort and possessions for the sake of Hashem.

V’hiktiram HaKohen HaMizbei’cha lechem ishei rei’ach nicho’ach kol cheilev l’Hashem (3:16)

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.

Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) The Gemora in Chagigah (27a) teaches that in the absence of the Beis HaMikdash, the generous opening up of a person’s table to serve the poor and other guests serves in lieu of the Altar. As a person’s table is comparable to the Altar and the food consumed to a sacrifice, the Rema rules (Orach Chaim 167:5) that just as every sacrifice required salt (2:13), so too the bread eaten at a meal must be dipped in salt. Need the bread be specifically dipped into the salt, or is it sufficient to sprinkle salt onto the bread? (Piskei Teshuvos 167 footnote 40, Bishvilei HaParsha)

2) Rashi writes (4:22) that a generation whose leader sins and brings an offering to effect atonement is praiseworthy. How can this be reconciled which his earlier comment (4:3) that if the Kohen Gadol sins, it is considered a communal sin which reflects badly on the people? (Meged Yosef)

3) Why is the blood of an animal brought as a sin-offering placed on the top of the Altar (4:30), but that of a bird brought as a sin-offering is sprinkled on the bottom (5:9)? (Darash Moshe)

4) 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)

© 2013 by Oizer Alport.