Parsha Potpourri: Parshas Vayikra

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Adam ki yakriv mikem Korban l’Hashem (1:2)

In the times of the Beis HaMikdash, a person who sinned at least had the comfort of knowing that he could bring a sacrifice to complete the atonement process prescribed by the Torah. In the absence of this option, how can a contemporary person fully repent and cleanse the effects of his transgressions? The Mabit (Rav Moshe ben Yosef of Trani) offers us a tremendous consolation. He writes that in the times of the Temple, when Hashem’s presence could be tangibly perceived, the ramifications of sin were correspondingly greater, thus necessitating the offering of a sacrifice to fully purify oneself from its spiritual damage. Since its destruction, we have been living in an era in which Hashem’s Providence is subtly hidden.

While this makes it more difficult to feel and recognize His constant presence, it also effected a change in the amount of spiritual destruction caused by sin. Because a transgression doesn’t cause as much damage as it once did, the bringing of a sacrifice is no longer required to earn complete forgiveness. Atonement may now be fully accomplished through the other steps of the repentance process, namely correcting one’s ways, confessing the sin, and accepting upon oneself never to do so again.

V’im nefesh achas techeta bish’gaga me’am ha’aretz ba’asosa achas mi’mitzvos Hashem aser lo sei’asena v’asheim (4:27)

Our verse introduces the laws governing the Korban Chatas (Sin-Offering) which must be brought by a person who sins unintentionally. Why does the Torah require a person to receive atonement for an action which was completely accidental?

An insight into resolving this difficulty may be derived from a story about Rav Yisroel Salanter. On one of his travels, Rav Yisroel was in need of money and requested a loan from one of the local townsmen. Because the man didn’t recognize him, he was suspicious of the request and demanded collateral to avoid being swindled. Some time later, Rav Yisroel encountered that same man carrying a chicken, seeking somebody to ritually slaughter it for him. The man approached Rav Yisroel and asked if he could do so.

Rav Yisroel seized the opportunity to teach the man a lesson in priorities. He pointed out that with respect to the possibility of losing a small amount of money, the man suspected him of being a con artist who wouldn’t repay his loan, yet when it came to the risk of eating non-kosher meat if his animal wasn’t properly slaughtered, the man had no problem trusting him.

Based on this story, we can appreciate how Rav Moshe Soloveitchik answers our original question by comparing it to a person carrying glass utensils. If they are inexpensive, he won’t be very careful, and periodically some of them may fall and break. On the other hand, if they are made of fine china, he will take extraordinary precautions to ensure their safe transport.

Similarly, if a person recognized the true value of mitzvos, he would take so much care to avoid transgressing them that accidents would be unthinkable. The Brisker Rav was renowned for what some perceived as a fanatical approach toward mitzvos, constantly worrying if he had properly fulfilled his obligations. He explained that just as a person who is transporting millions of dollars in cash would constantly check his pockets to make sure that the money is still there, his mitzvos were worth millions in his eyes and he examined them constantly to make sure that he didn’t lose them.

Although a person’s transgression may have been completely devoid of intent to sin, it was his lack of recognition of the importance of the mitzvah which allowed him to slip up. It is this mistaken understanding which the Torah requires him to correct and atone for.

V’lo Osi karasa Yaakov ki yagata Bi Yisroel (Haftorah – Yeshaya 43:22)

The Darkei Mussar writes in Parshas Balak that of the thousands of parables developed by the legendary Dubno Maggid, there were three which the Kotzker Rebbe declared were said with Ruach HaKodesh (Divine Inspiration). One of those three was used to explain this verse from the Haftorah. A businessman once returned home from his travels and hired one of the porters at the train station to carry his luggage to his home. Upon arriving at the man’s house, the porter put down the bags and approached the man to receive his payment. The traveler took one look at the boy and informed him that he had mistakenly brought the wrong suitcases.

The surprised porter questioned how the businessman could make this claim with such certainty when he hadn’t even seen the bags, which were still outside. The man explained that it was clear from the boy’s appearance that he had sweated and exerted tremendous effort to transport the luggage. As the bags which belonged to the businessman were filled with lightweight items which wouldn’t have required such exertion, it must be that the porter mistakenly brought the wrong suitcases.

Similarly, Yeshaya related that Hashem told the Jewish people, v’lo Osi karasa Yaakov – You haven’t called Me in your performance of mitzvos. The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh writes (Bamidbar 23:21) that the study of Torah and the performance of mitzvos should be enjoyable and invigorate a person. Yeshaya teaches elsewhere (40:31), v’kavei Hashem yachlifu koach – Those who look to and trust in Hashem will be constantly strengthened and refreshed. Just as the businessman informed the porter of his error, the Navi chastises the Jews that they must not be learning and doing mitzvos for Hashem’s sake. The proof of this claim is that instead of feeling renewed and energized, ki yagata Bi Yisroel – You grew weary of Me.

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

1) Why may offerings be brought from domesticated animals (1:2) but not from wild animals? (Daas Z’keinim, Rabbeinu Bechaye, Paneiach Raza)

2) An elevation-offering must be brought by its owner voluntarily (1:3). Rashi writes that if a person is obligated to bring an offering but refuses to do so, the court coerces him until he expresses his willingness. The Gemora in Menachos (73b) rules that if a non-Jew brings an elevation-offering without its associated libations, they should be offered using communal funds instead of forcing him to do so. Why isn’t a non-Jew also forced to do what he is supposed to do? (Har Tzvi)

3) 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 offering required salt (2:13), so too the bread eaten at a meal must be dipped in salt. If a person doesn’t have salt, is there any acceptable substitute that he can use for this purpose? (Shu”t Halachos Ketanos 218, Kaf HaChaim Orach Chaim 167:37, Shu”t Torah Lishmah 500, Shu”t Rav Pe’alim Yoreh Deah 2:4, Bishvilei HaParsha)

4) Was a blessing recited by a person performing the mitzvah of bringing a sin-offering (4:2)? (Shu”t Rashba 1:18, Mishneh L’Melech Hilchos Maasei HaKorbanos 10:1, Ayeles HaShachar)

5) The Torah commands (5:23) a thief to return what he stole. If a person stole money, may he return it on Shabbos, with the Torah obligation to return it taking precedence over the Rabbinical prohibition against handling money on Shabbos? (Shu”t Hisorerus Teshuva Orach Chaim 1:157)

© 2013 by Oizer Alport.