Vayikra 5781: Friends Halve the Pain and Double the Pleasure!
Vayikra (Leviticus 1-5 )
GOOD MORNING! One of the advantages of getting older is the length of the relationships one has with childhood friends. Those bonds of friendship were forged at a time in our lives when life was simpler and, in many ways, a lot less distorted. If one is truly fortunate, those relationships develop like a fine wine; over time they continue to deepen and develop very pleasurable characteristics.
One such friend of mine, Rabbi Mayer Kramer, a former college roommate from our Yeshiva days, keeps me laughing and entertained even today – some 40 years after we first met. I truly feel that we will be friends until we are old and senile. Then we will be new friends again!
Rabbi Kramer is a world-class teacher, leader, and innovator in the field of Jewish education. This week he sent me the following story:
A number of years ago, a young girl was enrolled midyear in of the most prominent girl’s schools in Bnei Brak – perhaps the most well-known enclave of Orthodox Judaism in the world. This girl was physically unwell and walked with a pronounced limp. In addition, she was a little socially awkward and “different.” It was clear that her parents hoped that a new school and a new environment would improve her spirits and physical wellbeing.
But it was not to be. It didn’t take long for some of the students to poke fun at her sickly pallor and limping gait. Unfortunately, this led to bullying and merciless taunting. Her parents began to keep her home most days because she hated going to school. Her teachers, along with the school administrators, did their best to sensitize the other girls and get them to stop being so cruel. The situation would improve for a short time, but ultimately the taunting and bullying returned.
One teacher decided to go see a great sage of the generation, Rabbi Aryeh Leib Shteinmen of blessed memory, to explain the situation and ask for his advice.
Rabbi Shteinmen was silent for quite some time after hearing the issue, and then softly asked, “Do the girls begin their day with davening (prayers)?” The teacher was surprised; every religious school in the world begins the day with the morning prayers! When she answered in the affirmative, Rabbi Shteinmen nodded and said, “You tell them that it is forbidden for them to pray.”
Upon seeing the teacher’s obvious shock, Rabbi Shteinman continued, “You tell them that I have ruled that as long as they continue to destroy a fellow classmate it is as if they are committing murder. God does not want the prayers of unrepentant murderers. They are therefore forbidden to pray.”
The next morning as class began the teacher instructed her students to put away their siddurim (prayer books) and take out their classwork instead. The girls looked at one another, not comprehending what was happening. “We don’t understand, why aren’t we davening today?”
The teacher explained that she had visited with the leading sage of the generation and he had ruled that it was prohibited for them to pray. She wrote the following verse on the board: “I will hide my eyes from you; and, when you make many prayers, I will not hear; your hands are full of blood” (Isaiah 1:15).
The teacher went on to explain how their horrible behavior was akin to murder, and because of that they had received a ruling from the one of the most well-known sages of the time that they were forbidden to pray because God finds such prayers abominable.
The girls were devastated; being compared to murderers by one of the leading sages of the Jewish people coupled with being told that therefore God does not want their prayers, made a huge impression on them.
One of the girls reached into her desk and began to write a very heartfelt letter of apology. She also added a pledge to change her ways going forward and committed to being a true friend to her classmate. She then went around the class and each and every girl signed the note. Only then did the teacher permit them to take out their siddurim and begin the morning prayers.
The next day, the sickly girl returned to class and she was warmly welcomed by her chastened classmates. They went out of their way to befriend her and build friendships. In a short time, the girl began to feel much better about herself, blossomed as a student, and began to mature and develop relationships. Acceptance by her classmates had encouraged her to come out of her shell and grow as a person.
Of course, this week’s Torah reading has a related and relevant message; “When a king has sinned…he shall bring his offering…” (Leviticus 4:22-23). In his remarks on this verse, the famous Biblical commentator known as Rashi paraphrases a passage from the Talmud (Horayos 10b), “How fortunate is the generation that has a king who sets his heart on seeking atonement for a transgression…”
The Talmud goes on to say that if the king of a generation behaves thusly, certainly his subjects will follow suit. In other words, a generation that can look up to its leaders as models of contrition who take responsibility for their mistakes is truly fortunate because they will learn from their leaders how to behave appropriately in their own lives.
By contrast, it is almost breathtaking how far we are in our own times from seeing that kind of leadership. Elected officials from BOTH the Republican party and the Democratic party manage to mostly model the worst kinds of behavior; dishonesty, predation, selfishness, and arrogance. To compound the issue, their seeming lack of self-awareness is simply stunning.
There is an interesting midrash based on a verse from this week’s Torah reading. The book of Leviticus begins with the Almighty calling to Moses. In fact, the Hebrew name for the book of Leviticus is Vayikra, which means “and He called.” The midrash points out that Moses – who took the Jews out of Egypt, went up to speak to God, brought back the Torah to the Jewish people, and built the Tabernacle – would not approach the inside of the Tabernacle without first being summoned by God to do so.
From here we see, continues the midrash, that a Torah scholar without da’as (knowledge) is likened to rotting carcass. This is a little perplexing; what kind of “knowledge” are we discussing? After all, a Torah scholar knows quite a bit!
When Adam and Eve sinned, they sinned by eating from the “Tree of Knowledge.” What knowledge did they receive when they ate the fruit of that tree? They became self-aware (as the Torah points out, one of the things they immediately noticed was that they were naked).
This is what it means that a Torah scholar without “knowledge” (i.e. self-awareness) is like a rotting carcass. Why? Because a Torah scholar who is hopelessly lost in his own ego and self-importance actively adversely affects everyone who gets near him – similar to a rotting carcass.
That is what the midrash is saying. Moses, as great as he was, was always self-aware of who he really was as a person. He remained humble and grounded his entire life. He didn’t lose himself to self-aggrandizement for all the incredible things he did and saw. In his mind, he was still a simple person, one who didn’t presume status. Thus, Moses would NEVER approach the Tabernacle without first being summoned by the Almighty.
Next week we will cover many aspects of the upcoming holiday of Passover – a time of year when we eliminate of leaven (both physical and spiritual) from our lives. We will go into greater detail and explain this further next week. BUT it is very important that all Jews make arrangements to sell whatever leavened products they own to a non-Jew (who is permitted to own leavened products on Passover) for the duration of the Passover holiday.
This is generally handled by one’s local rabbi. If, for whatever reason, you need assistance you can now sell your chometz (leavened products) online. Please click here to sell your chometz.
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.
Friends are God’s apology for relatives