Vayikra (Leviticus 1-5 )
GOOD MORNING! As the vast majority of the world practices social distancing and people spend extended periods of time in isolation, we are forced to consider how much time we can really handle being with ourselves.
Luckily, we live in remarkable times, the likes of which have never been seen or even imagined by preceding generations. As much as we seclude ourselves to our private world we can still, quite literally, pull the outside world into our own. One of the most powerful breakthroughs in the history of education is the now ubiquitous concept of virtual schools whereby we can maintain a relatively high level of learning and even achieve a modicum of social connectivity.
For me, in particular, this is an important breakthrough. I run an educational system here in South Florida that begins with toddlers and goes all the way through graduate school. The responsibility of creating educational continuity for a thousand souls can be a little overwhelming. While grateful for the technology that makes it all possible, the actual execution of creating meaningful educational experiences for each division has certainly been challenging.
Furthermore, just because we make educational content available virtually to students of all age groups, this does not magically convert parents into competent teachers or even managers of their children’s “classes.” The very first day we had virtual school in session, the principal received the following message from a parent: “After three hours of home school: one student has been suspended and the other has been expelled.”
The good news is that no one will complain about paying tuition any more. Perhaps even more importantly, parents will finally begin to believe what teachers have been saying about their children. Sigh.
One of the unique aspects of our educational system is the focus on teaching critical thinking skills— even at a young age. This is an outgrowth of my father’s philosophy that we need to develop each student’s mind, not merely feed them information. In order to implement this we have broad crossover between the different divisions. As a case in point, every kindergarten class pays a visit to the head of the university (in Hebrew this is known as the “Rosh HaYeshiva” – head of the Yeshiva) for an introduction and to have a friendly conversation.
My brother Rabbi Akiva Zweig – whom I have previously mentioned – had the pleasure of hosting one of the kindergarten classes this year. After some pleasantries he asked them the following question, “Who loves you the most?”
Being that the student body comes primarily from a religious background and that the school itself has, at its core, a strong religious discipline, he was not surprised when almost every child answered, “Hashem – God – loves me the most.”
He then asked, “Who loves you second most?” Here the children were sharply divided; some said their mothers, some said their fathers, and some said their teachers (who were also in the room with them).
Next, he asked them, “How do you know that Hashem loves you more than your parents?” Interestingly, the answer that most children gave was “because He created us.” The implication being, that since He created both them and their parents His loves for us supersedes all.
My brother then began to offer them a deep insight to consider. He asked, “Do you love someone that you do not know?” The children shook their heads.
“Why not?” he continued, “Because it’s hard to love someone who you don’t know. But Hashem knows you best of all. If you break a lamp in your house, even if your parents don’t know who did it, Hashem surely knows that you did and loves you anyway and unconditionally.” He then thanked the children, gave each child a snack and they happily went on their way.
When Kobe Bryant died a few short months ago I was perplexed to see so many people that had never really known him, nor even spoken to him, crying uncontrollably. Somehow they felt that they really loved Kobe. But this was difficult to understand, after all they didn’t actually know him. He may very well have been a remarkable person in many respects, but you cannot have a genuine love for someone you don’t know; even a child understands that!
The truth is that many of us don’t know ourselves much better than we knew Kobe. We’re constantly on the run and working hard, often experiencing more self-loathing than self-love. We never measure up to impossible standards and we mistakenly believe that our shortcomings are who we are. But it needn’t be this way. God created each of us in a perfect way – exactly the way we were meant to be. It’s each and every person’s job to get in touch with that essential self and act in a way that reveals the true person that God intended you to be.
The self-isolation that has been thrust upon us should be seen as a real opportunity for growth. We can begin to focus on who we truly are and who we want to become. We must each take this time to explore how we want to improve ourselves – our minds, our bodies, our spirits, and our interpersonal relationships. This will ultimately lead to greater self-knowledge and therefore a closer relationship with one’s self.
We need to remember that we are all created by God and imbued with a beautiful soul. We were created in His image and therefore the more we are connected to who we truly are the more we can love ourselves.
This week’s Torah reading follows a similar theme. This week we begin the third book of the Five Books of Moses. In Hebrew tradition it’s known as Torat Kohanim – the laws of the priestly caste (Leviticus is a mistranslation as the majority of Levites were not of the priestly caste). Much of this book deals with the different offerings that were brought in the Tabernacle (Mishkan) and the laws of holiness that the priestly caste had to maintain.
Thus, this book introduces the concept of a “korbon – offering.” Until this time, the only word the Torah used was “zevach,” which means to sacrifice. But once we built a home in our midst for the presence of God to descend, we now had a daily relationship with Him. We see this from the etymological source of the word “korbon.”
The root of the word korbon is “kiruv – closeness.” Hashem is informing us that the service in the Mishkan isn't simply to pay homage to Hashem; it is to gain a closer relationship with Him, which is what He desires. This is because God knows who we truly are and loves us unconditionally. Now is the time to focus on what it is that He loves about us, commit ourselves to being worthy of His love, and learn to love ourselves just as much.
Vayikra, Leviticus 1:1 - 5:26
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.
Ramban, one of the essential commentaries on Torah, explains that through the vicarious experience of what happened to the animal korbanot, the transgressor realized the seriousness of his transgression. This aided him in the process of teshuva – correcting his erring ways.
This week's portion includes the details of various types of korbanot: burnt offering, flour offering (proof that one does not need to offer "blood" to gain atonement), the first grain offering, peace offering, unintentional sin offering (private and communal), guilt (for an intentional sin) offerings – varied upon one's ability to pay, and an offering for personal use of something designated or belonging to the Tabernacle or the Temple.
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Miami 7:17 - Guatemala 5:55 - Hong Kong 6:19
Honolulu 6:26 - Johannesburg 5:52 - Los Angeles 6:52
London 6:11- Melbourne 7:02 - Mexico City 6:31
New York 6:58 - Singapore 6:55 - Toronto 7:21
We may be alone, but we are alone together.