Soul on the Altar

Meal offeringWhen a person presents an offering of meal to the Lord, his offering shall be of choice flour; he shall pour oil upon it, lay frankincense on itLeviticus 2:1 (JPS Tanakh)

The word “soul” is not used in reference to any voluntary offerings except for the meal-offering. Yet, here, the verse (Vayikra 2:1) begins, “And when a soul will bring a meal-offering…” Whose practice is it to dedicate a meal-offering? It is the poor person. The Holy One, blessed is He, said: “Although the poor man’s offering is modest, I consider it as if he offered his soul.”

Daf Yomi Digest
Gemara Gem
“The precious offering of the poor”
Menachos 104

Who are you? What do you have to offer God? What is your worth to other human beings? Why does what you do matter?

We tend to judge ourselves in comparison to others. When we see that our accomplishments are better or more abundant than someone else’s we feel better about who we are. When another person has more money, more prestige, lives a more righteous life than we do, we tend to feel bad about ourselves.

That’s not a universal response among people, but it’s common and all too human. Yet, we’re not the same. How are we to understand this? Continuing the “Gemara Gem” commentary, we discover:

Two students sat in the same class. They heard the same lectures from their rebbe, and they each tried to record notes to summarize the lessons. After a week, the rebbe announced that an exam on the material would be given.

One student, who was quite bright, relied upon his memory and he exerted minimal effort in studying, but he managed to score a relatively high grade. The other student had a weaker ability. Despite great efforts in preparing, he scored quite low.

Surprisingly, the rebbe called the stronger student to his classroom after grading the tests, and he rebuked him. The rebbe expressed his disappointment in the score that he had earned, even though it was a relatively high grade, and he pointed out how that with a consistent effort, the student was certainly capable of achieving much more. The boy defended himself and pointed out that the weaker boy had scored even lower. The rebbe refused to accept his excuses, and he demanded that the strong student produce an effort commensurate with his abilities.

It is obvious that the excuse of the more capable student was without merit. It is clear that each person has his own talents and abilities, and, at least in spiritual matters, every individual must work and produce to meet his own potential. Some people are blessed with greater intellect, while others are emotionally charged and motivated to action. Every person is expected to achieve the maximum that he is capable of attaining.

We see that we don’t all come equipped with the same passions and identical skills, yet we’re expected to utilize what we have been given to the best of our efforts. This works well for the rich and the richly gifted if they apply themselves, but the poor cannot offer Rising Incensethe same abundance to other people and to God as the rich. How can a poor man dare to hold a banquet for a King? How can a person deep in sin ever hope to entertain the Righteous One?

The Ben Ish Chai, zt”l, explains…”A certain great king visited a large city in his kingdom. In the city were many noblemen and wealthy people, all of whom hoped to host the king for his first meal in their city. Obviously such wealthy people offered to prepare a banquet that would literally be fit for a king. But the king wished to go to his friend who was a poor shepherd and could never afford a repast approaching what is fitting for the king. If the king refuses the noblemen and wealthy to go to his poor friend, they can protest that eating such simple food is not honorable for the king.

“When it comes time for a meal and the greatest citizens are vying for his company – each with a feast prepared in case the king acquiesces to him – the king explains that he cannot eat any heavy food at all. ‘I am not feeling so well and must have a repast composed solely of light foods. I need sheep’s milk, yogurt, light cheese, butter and similar fare. Since the place where I will find these foods freshest is at a shepherd’s abode, I will take my meal with my poor friend.’”

Daf Digest Yomi
Stories off the Daf
“The King’s Special Meal”
Menachos 104

Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.

While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” –Mark 2:13-17

Rich man or poor, righteous tzadik or a person heavy with sin, we each are not called to offer God everything in the world but only our very best, even though our best may be the meal offering of the poor. While you may envy what the rich and the righteous can offer God in their abundance, out of the depths of despair and poverty, what you offer, though it seems small, is the most splendorous gift of all…your very soul on the altar of God.

May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice. –Psalm 141:2

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