Tag Archives: Vayikra

Vayikra: Drawing Closer

eph-2-10-potter-clayThe Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying: Speak to the Israelite people, and say to them: When any of you presents an offering of cattle to the Lord, he shall choose his offering from the herd or from the flock.

Leviticus 1:1-2 (JPS Tanakh)

The book of Vayikra (Leviticus) primarily deals with what are commonly called “sacrifices” or “offerings.” According to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch: a “sacrifice” implies giving up something that is of value to oneself for the benefit of another. An “offering” implies a gift which satisfies the receiver. The Almighty does not need our gifts. He has no needs or desires. The Hebrew word is korban, which is best translated as a means of bringing oneself into a closer relationship with the Almighty. The offering of korbanot was only for our benefit to come close to the Almighty.

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly”
Commentary on Torah Portion Vayikra

Leviticus is one of the books of the Bible that many Christians can’t stand. It’s so boring. “Anyway,” we say to ourselves, “aren’t we done with all of those icky, bloody sacrifices?”

According to blogger and author Derek Leman, the sacrifices teach us a good many things about Jesus or Yeshua Our Atonement, as he titles his new book. No, I’ve not laid eyes on it yet but at some point, I’ll probably need to get a hold of a copy so I can review it. In the meantime, I’ll just have to offer what meager insights I have on this week’s Torah Portion and what it means for Christians.

The clue is in what Rabbi Packouz says about the nature of sacrifices or “korbanot” which has the meaning not so much of slaying an animal to appease God, but to bring an offering to God in order to draw closer to Him. Where else do we see this imagery?

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:1-2 (ESV)

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 2:4-5 (ESV)

Paul calls us to be living sacrifices and Peter says to offer God spiritual sacrifices. Obviously, in neither case are they suggesting that we bring animal sacrifices to the Temple or to offer (gulp) our own bodies as physical sacrifices on the pyre, though as I once mentioned, every soul can be considered to be on the altar of God.

Peasants-Carrying-Straw-MontfoucaultWhen we connect our lives to making a “sacrifice for God,” we usually think of depriving ourselves of something, doing without, even suffering pain and torture. I can’t say that’s not what God will ask of us. After all, in China and elsewhere in the world, Brother Yun and many others like him have suffered greatly and sacrificed much for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

But regardless of what God may ask of you or me, whatever it is, it’s not a matter of what we are doing without but what immeasurable treasures we gain, the greatest of which is the drawing closer to God.

Sometimes it’s not a matter of waiting around to see what God will ask. Sometimes it’s a matter of looking around and seeing what needs to be done.

Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov once came to the marketplace in Yaroslav. He was passing among the vendors, checking the quality of the straw and hay for sale, when he met his friend Rabbi Shimon of Yaroslav.

“Rebbe, what are you doing here?” R. Shimon asked in surprise.

“Leave out my ‘rebbe’ and your ‘rebbe,’ and come with me to carry a bale of hay to a poor widow who had no hay or straw upon which to lay her broken body,” the Sassover replied pungently.

The two holy leaders went together, hauling a bale of hay on their shoulders. Astonished bystanders stared in wonder and moved aside to make room for them to pass.

As they went, Rabbi Moshe Leib remarked, “Were the Holy Temple standing today, we would be bringing sacrifices and libations. Now we bring straw, and it is as though we have all the kavanot (spiritual intentions) that come with offering the minchah sacrifice.”

Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov’s father, R. Yaakov, would take a job before Passover grinding wheat at the mill—not for himself, though he was also a poor man, but for a widow and orphan who lived in his neighborhood. And he did this despite his great and abiding love for the Torah, which he learned constantly.

Moshe Leib, his son, followed in his father’s footsteps. Despite his greatness in Torah, he did not worry about his honor when it came to performing acts of kindness for his fellow Jew with his own hands, even if they were beneath his status in the eyes of others.

-Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles
“In Place of a Temple Offering”
from Stories My Grandfather Told Me
quoted from Chabad.org

practicing_loveWe are the closest to God when we are the closest to other human beings, especially those who have needs far greater than our own. Here we see that two men, two Rebbes who normally did not carry their own straw much less carry straw for a poor widow drew closer to God by looking around, seeing a need, and responding unreservedly. Or as the Master taught:

The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Matthew 23:11-12 (ESV)

Drawing closer to God is inconsistent with claiming self-righteousness, self-exaltation, and self-privilege. Servitude, humility, kindness, and a spirit willing to help with no expectation of return draws Creator and creation into close proximity. Seeking who we are in God brings us closer to God. Seeking who and what somebody else is in God as if it were our own will only bring trouble.

This is the way of Torah: eat bread with salt, drink water by measure, and sleep on the earth.

-Ethics of the Fathers 6:4

Does observance of Torah require living a life of poverty and depriving ourselves of all the niceties of the world.

Certainly not. The Talmud is elaborating upon another Talmudic statement: “Who is wealthy? One who is content with his portion” (Ethics of the Fathers 4:1).

People who can be happy with the basics of life – food, clothing, and shelter – can truly enjoy the luxuries of life, because they can be happy even without them. Those whose happiness depends upon having luxuries are likely to be perennially dissatisfied, in constant need of more, and consequently unhappy, even if they have everything they desire.

A wise man once observed a display of various items in a store window. “I never knew there were so many things I can get along without,” he said.

If bread and water can satisfy us, then we can enjoy a steak. If we are not satisfied unless we have caviar, we will discover that even caviar is not enough.

Today I shall…

…try to be content with the essentials of life and consider everything else as optional.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Nisan 2”

open-your-handAs Rabbi Twerski says, this isn’t an invitation to pursue self-deprivation, to give all our belongings to the poor, and then move to India to work with lepers. It’s not even an invitation to abandon motivation and striving to better ourselves, our incomes, and our positions in life. It is, however, an invitation to consider that after we’ve done all we can in taking care of ourselves, our families, and our neighbors, to look around, take stock of our environment, and to realize that we should be satisfied with the gifts of God’s providence. It is from those gifts that we give back to others and give back to God, for everything belongs to Him anyway, and who we are and what we have only exists so that we may serve Him.

And by serving God and serving others, we serve ourselves, for what we then achieve is union and belonging and closeness to who and where we came from in the first place.

Good Shabbos.

Vayikra: Voluntary Offering

The Torah portion Vayikra discusses various types of korbanos, sacrificial offerings, first relating the laws of voluntary offerings and then of obligatory offerings. Why does the Torah begin with free-will offerings; one would think that we should first be made aware of the laws regarding the korbanos that must be brought, and only then learn about the details of the voluntary offerings. The answer is that, by doing so, it indicates that the most crucial aspect of all offerings is that they be offered from a genuine desire to come closer to G-d – “his heart’s intent is for the sake of Heaven.”

It can thus be said that all korbanos are to be considered free-will offerings, for at the crux of all offerings are the feelings of the individual bringing them.

In fact, the intention required is found within each and every Jew, but when an individual brings a free-will offering, these latent desires are revealed for all to see.

Thus, it is not necessary for the Torah to command this intent, for it is found in any case; bringing the offering will automatically reveal the Jew’s innate intention of drawing close to G-d.

-from “Korbanos and the Heart’s Intent”
Commentary on Torah Portion Vayikra
Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XVII, pp. 9-13
and the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson

In Christianity, we have a tendency to view Jewish religious behavior as obligatory, works-driven acts; almost a kind of “slavery” to God. By comparison, the Christian believes that grace makes us as free as a bird in flight to enjoy the peace and understanding of a loving and forgiving God. What we do in response to the grace of God and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is based (ideally) on sheer gratitude for all God has done for us. There are few, if any, obligations incumbent on the Christian, or at least that’s how it sounds when most Pastors deliver their message from the pulpit on Sunday.

But here we see a different side of Judaism, one that we’re not always aware of. We see that a Jew is encouraged to embrace the motivation of voluntarily drawing closer to God. It’s not a slave approaching a Master with bloody sacrifices on a hot, burning, and ash-filled altar, but a person who actually wants to approach, as a lover with a gift, desiring to enter into the presence of her paramour.

Today’s daf continues to discuss the halachos of various issurei kareis.

The evil inclination will drive a person insane if given half a chance. First it entices a person to sin. Then it riddles him with thoughts of guilt and gloomy thoughts of what will be the result of his sinful activities.

Rav Yitzchak Sher, zt”l, explained why the yetzer hara won’t even allow a person to enjoy having sinned. “The yetzer wants to kill us, as our sages teach. He therefore pushes one to sin and urges God to punish the hapless fellow. Even if he cannot kill us, he wants us to suffer. He is in essence saying, ‘You sinned, now give up all the pleasure too.’”

One of the strongest arguments the yetzer has is when a person transgresses issurei kareis, chas v’shalom. The evil inclination immediately begins harping on this stain, insisting that teshuvah doesn’t help—in direct contradiction of the Gemara itself. Yet even one who learned that kareis can be rectified cannot help being daunted by the need for Yom Kippur and yesurin to clean away such guilt. Although the Meiri there adds that a complete teshuvah also atones alone, who can say he has done a complete teshuvah?

The Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, brings that the Yesod V’Shoresh Ha’avodah, zt”l, teaches how to wipe away even the kareissins. “It is brought from the Arizal that one who did a sin punishable by kareis should stay awake the entire night and learn Torah, especially those segments where the sin he transgressed is discussed.”

The Yesod V’Shoresh Ha’avodah adds, “This practice is most frequently followed during the nights of Aseres Yemei Teshuvah. The custom is for people to stay on their feet and learn Meseches Kareisos the entire night.”

The Chofetz Chaim adds that one who learns Meseches Kareisos well attains added holiness and purity. Learning this tractate is a segulah to rectify transgressions.

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“Repairing the Damage”
Kereisos 3

That doesn’t sound very voluntary, but when we have distanced ourselves from God, it’s pretty tough to actually want to face Him again, particularly after we’ve sinned and let Him down. Guilt makes things a mess and we’ll put ourselves through all kinds of pain and sorrow as a result.

But God does not want sin to make His people distant and desires that His chosen ones draw close, even after periods of separation.

The unique love which G-d shows the Jewish people is reflected in the beginning of our Torah reading, which states: “And He called to Moshe, and G-d spoke to him.” Before G-d spoke to Moshe, He called to him, showing him a unique measure of endearment. G-d did not call Moshe to impart information; on the contrary, He called him to express the fundamental love He shares with our people. (For although it was Moshe alone who was called, this call was addressed to him as the leader of our people as a whole.)

The inner G-dly nature which we possess constantly “calls” to us, seeking to express itself. This is reflected by the subject of the Torah reading, the sacrificial offerings. The Hebrew word for sacrifice, korban, shares a root with the word kerov, meaning “close.” Sacrifices bring the Jews’ spiritual potential to the surface, carrying our people and each individual closer to G-d.

-Rabbi Eli Touger
from “The Dearness of Every Jew”
Commentary on Torah Portion Vayikra
Adapted from
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. VII, pgs. 24-26;
Vol. XVII, pgs. 12-15;
Sefer HaSichos 5750, Vol. I, p. 327ff

But how does this speak to the Christian? Actually, it speaks to us especially so that me might understand how passionately God does not want His chosen ones, the Jewish people, to be distant from Him…ever. How can the joining of the nations to the God of Israel ever diminish, or God forbid, destroy the loving union between the Jews and God? How can we ever dare believe such as thing?

But if God is so close to the Jew, where does that leave the Gentile?

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. –John 3:16 (ESV)

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” –Matthew 28:18-20 (ESV)

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands – remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. –Ephesians 2:11-13 (ESV)

God’s grace and mercy are not limited to the Jewish people, although the Jews have been and always shall be a special people unto the Creator. God grants His grace to the nations of the world as well, but here’s the catch. We must volunteer to draw near to Him. We are not compelled to do so, nor are we born into His grace.

To one degree or another, if you are born Jewish, even though God desires the Jewish person to draw near of his or her own free will, there is an attachment of the Jew to all other Jews and to the Torah that can never be disconnected. You belong, quite frankly, whether you want to or not. This is not true for the rest of us. Although each of us was created in God’s own image, we either choose to draw near to Him or we choose to be distant. Even the atheist, who believes it is more rational to disbelieve in the existence of God, is still making a choice, since knowledge of God is abundant in the world around us.

But God desires us. He desires that we all draw near to Him and that none should be lost or perish (2 Peter 3:9). But we must desire Him. How can this be done, since all human beings desire only their own wants and needs without hardly a thought of God? It would take a miracle. Rabbi Touger’s commentary continues.

The G-dly potential within every Jew and within our people as a whole will not remain dormant. Its blossoming will lead to an age when the G-dliness latent in the world at large will become manifest, the Era of the Redemption. At that time, the Jewish people will “relate [G-d’s] praise” in a complete manner, showing our gratitude for the miracles performed on our behalf.

Herein we see a connection to the month of Nissan, during which Parshas Vayikra usually falls. Our Sages associate Nissan with miracles. Further, Nissan is the month in which the Jews were redeemed, and the month in which we will be redeemed in the future. At that time, our entire nation will proceed to our Holy Land and “relate [G-d’s] praise” in the Beis HaMikdash. May this take place in the immediate future.

The Rabbi’s words echo those of the Apostle Paul who also said that “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26). We also see how the rest of us are included in God’s grace, as Rabbi Touger says that the “blossoming” of Jewish holiness, “will lead to an age when the G-dliness latent in the world at large will become manifest, the Era of the Redemption.”

This is the era of the Messiah’s return.

The Christian world is looking forward to a reminder of the return of Jesus in its celebration of his resurrection on Easter Sunday, which is on April 8th this year. For the Jew, the special time of redemption is when the Jewish people were redeemed from slavery by God, during the Passover season, which begins at sundown on Thursday, April 5th. I personally relate more to the Passover season for reasons too numerous to mention here, but regardless of which time you hold dear in your heart, realize that we are called, not to be chained to God, but to fervently desire to be near to Him, to draw close, to love His Word and His Presence in our lives.

To want to be near God, we must believe we are safe when we are with Him. We must do more than hope in Him, we must trust in God, something that is not always easy for me. I suppose this is a major reason why our relationship isn’t what it should be. I suppose it’s why God drops little reminders into my calendar; little invitations to draw near to Him. He does so every week on Shabbat. He does so every day for morning and evening prayers. He does so many times a year and, after all, as I just mentioned, Passover is drawing near. These are times when God asks me to set aside my doubts and fears, to trust Him, to believe in miracles, and to approach.

Trust transcends hope, as the sky above transcends the earth below.

The heart that clings to a thread of hope is anchored to its earthly bounds. It desires to receive, but its capacity is tightly defined. The thread snaps and your eyes look up to see nothing more than the open sky. Hope is gone. All you can do now is trust the One who has no bounds.

That is Trust: When you stop suggesting to your Maker what He should do. When you are prepared to be surprised and open to wonders and miracles.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Trust over Hope”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

Good Shabbos.