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עשה תורתך קבע – אמור מעט ועשה הרבה

Parshat VaYikra – Digging Deep for Meaning

Posted by rabbiart on March 19, 2010

Details! You want details? VaYikra’s got details. Even the details have details. Outmoded? Anachronistic? VaYikra has it all. And yet…

VaYikra has meaning. Consider verses two and three:

דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם, אָדָם כִּי-יַקְרִיב מִכֶּם קָרְבָּן, לַיהוָה–מִן-הַבְּהֵמָה, מִן-הַבָּקָר וּמִן-הַצֹּאן, תַּקְרִיבוּ, אֶת-קָרְבַּנְכֶם.אִם-עֹלָה קָרְבָּנוֹ מִן-הַבָּקָר, זָכָר תָּמִים יַקְרִיבֶנּוּ; אֶל-פֶּתַח אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד, יַקְרִיב אֹתוֹ, לִרְצֹנוֹ, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה.

Talk to the Israelites and tell them about bringing an offering to HaShem, from the cattle, the herd or the flock. For a burnt-offering, an unblemished male, brought to the Meeting Tent doorway, to be accepted before HaShem.

I deliberately played fast and loose with the translation to preserve the opportunity to look at two key words in these verses.  The first is ki-yakreev (כִּי-יַקְרִיב )  and the second is l’rtzono (לִרְצֹנוֹ).

The Hebrew word ki can be translated as “if”, “when” or even “because”.  “Because” does not seem appropriate in this context, but the verse could be read as either “when” an offering is brought, or “if” an offering is brought.  Two words, six letters, and a world of difference.

Are sacrifices and their modern equivalent – prayers – voluntary or commanded? Do we live in a world of “if” we give up something valuable to HaShem (or for the agnostics and Richard Dawkins – for the greater good).  That would mean we are choosing to believe that the world is designed for us to put the emphasis on ourselves. “If” we sacrifice implies that we might not.  Translating ki as “when” implies that – of course we recognize that the world does not revolve around us, but that we have obligations to the greater good, however we might define that.  We know from our sources and tradition that ki can only make sense to translate as “when” we act in non-self-centered ways.   Pity the world and pity anyone who thinks that this is a matter of “if”.

In verse three we find the word l’rtzono.  Depending on the translation you consult, this word is rendered as merely referring to willingly bringing the sacrifice, or translated as the sacrifice – or the person bringing it – is accepted by HaShem.  Understanding it as a combination of all three gives us a peek at the way the world is designed, and the way we should understand that design.

The world is designed to work best when we willingly give up some of what we have for the greater good, or for HaShem; however we work through our own theology or lack of it.  The world is also designed to work best when what we give up something that is pure and unblemished (not our leftovers), that is acceptable, even desirable, so that we ourselves live our lives as acceptable, desirable members of our society, and HaShem’s creation, which most definitely does not revolve around any of us individually.

One exception to the rule of leftovers, is of course, ridding our households of hametz.  In many shuls food barrels are put out so that rather than eating up everything left, we take all the food we have and give it to those who are less fortunate.

Selling our hametz is good.

Giving away our hametz so that others can benefit from it, is better.

Recognizing that we are obligated to give of ourselves to help others, is best.

Its not by accident that details of sacrificing occur in the homestretch of Pesach preparation.

Shabbat Shalom


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