Parsha Potpourri: Parshas Vayikra


Adam ki yakriv mi’kem 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 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 asher 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’im lo sagia yado dei she v’heivee es ashamo asher chatah shtei sorim o shnei b’nei yonah l’Hashem echad l’Chatas v’echad l’Olah (5:7)

The Mekor Boruch, Rav Nochum Boruch Ginsburg, recounts that he once entered the home of the Ohr Sameach and found him beaming with clearly visible pleasure. Rav Meir Simcha explained to his guest that he had just developed an original insight into the subject he was studying, for which he received quite an unexpected approbation.

The Gemora in Chullin (22a) rules that a bird which is brought as a Korban Olah may only be offered during the day, as is the law regarding an animal which is brought as a Korban Chatas. The Gemora questions the need to teach this explicitly, as this law should be derivable from a more general principle quoted there which teaches that all sacrifices must be brought during the day. The Gemora answers that without this explicit ruling, we might have mistakenly concluded that the general rule applies to the bird brought as a Korban Chatas but not to the one offered as a Korban Olah, rendering it necessary to directly state otherwise.

In his responsa, the Rashba (1:276) questions the logic of the Gemora’s answer in suggesting that we might have differentiated between the laws governing the two birds, as in regard to this law they are completely identical. The Rashba therefore concludes that this text was mistakenly inserted into the Gemora and should be deleted.   To resolve the Rashba’s difficulty, Rav Meir Simcha realized that the Ibn Ezra questions why the Torah requires a poor person to offer two birds in lieu of the one animal he would have brought if he had sufficient means. They explain that because the bird lacks the inner organs of the animal, an additional bird is brought as a Korban Olah to replace the missing innards.

Based on this explanation, Rav Meir Simcha suggested that the “erroneous” line in the Gemora can now be easily understood. Because the entire premise of the bird which is brought as a Korban Olah is to compensate for the lacking innards of the animal he would have otherwise brought, it makes perfect sense to assume that the Korban Olah may be brought at night just as the innards may be offered at night. Had the Gemora not explicitly ruled otherwise, one might have concluded that the general rule requiring that the sacrifice be offered during the day applies only to the Korban Chatas.

After his intense effort to develop this insight, Rav Meir Simcha briefly dozed off. In his dream, he saw the great Rabbis of previous generations sitting in the Heavenly Court and discussing the lack of contemporary individuals capable of generating true and original Torah novellae. At this point, the Rashba himself stood up and announced, “In the city of Dvinsk there lives a Rav who has understood and delved into the truth of the Torah even more than I was able to do!”

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

1)     Many of the offerings described in Parshas Vayikra are completely voluntary in nature. If these mitzvos are so important, why isn’t their performance obligatory, and if it they aren’t, for what purpose did Hashem give them? (Birkas Peretz)

2)     An elevation-offering must be brought by its owner voluntarily (1:3). Rashi writes that if somebody is obligated to bring such an offering but doesn’t wish 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 accompanying libations, they should be offered using communal funds instead of forcing him to bring them. Why isn’t a non-Jew forced to do what he is supposed to like a Jew? (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)     The Torah commands (5:23) a thief to return the item that he stole. If somebody stole money, is he permitted to return it on Shabbos, as perhaps the Biblical obligation to return the stolen object takes precedence over the Rabbinical prohibition against handling money on Shabbos? (Shu”t Hisorerus Teshuva Orach Chaim 1:157)

© 2011 by Oizer Alport.