Parshat Vayikra (5771)

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When a man will bring an offering from among you to G-d, from the animals, from the cattle or from the flock shall you bring your offering – Leviticus 1:2


This Shabbat we begin reading the third book of the Torah – Sefer Vayikra, which deals in great detail with the sacrifices offered in the Beit Hamikdash.

The whole concept of animal sacrifice as something which gives pleasure to G-d is discussed and debated at great length by our Sages with many different reasons proposed for these commandments. However, whatever the reasoning G-d has, we are left in no doubt that the spiritual effects of bringing a sacrifice are profound.

The word sacrifice seems to have acquired ominous overtones, even if it is not referring to people dancing around bonfires offering up human children under a full moon. What the book of Vayikra details, however, is the straightforward process of bringing a sacrifice – with no black magic involved! The animal or bird is brought to the Beit Hamikdash for shechita, after which (depending on which sacrifice) parts of the animal are taken away to be eaten, and parts are burned on the altar. There are many variations though, and some sacrifices are not eaten at all, and there are also offerings of doves, and even meal offerings of flour and oil.

What is interesting is the wording the Torah uses when talking about the korbanot – the sacrifices: “When a man will bring an offering from among you to G d, from the animals …” The commentaries question the need for the seemingly out of place text “from among you” in this sentence.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of  Liadi explains that there is another message contained here: The word “korban” for sacrifice shares a root with the word “karov” – (to be) close. The Torah is saying that if a man wishes to come closer to G-d (karov) then he must know that the offering (korban) must come from inside you, from the very depths of your personality, from deep inside your soul.

We all possess animalistic / instinctive tendencies, some more negative than others, and some better hidden than others. To get close to the Divine we need to “offer these negative tendencies on the altar” – i.e. transform them into positive desires and instincts. When that happens, and our base desires are transformed to positive ones, then the G-dly soul within us is free to complete its mission on this earth – to do as many good deeds and study as much Torah as humanly possible.

In his famous fairy tale The Ugly Duckling, Hans Christian Anderson describes a young cygnet hatched in an alien environment, surrounded by ducks, where she is ridiculed and rejected for being different. Only once fully grown does the “duckling” realise that she is in fact a graceful swan, welcomed and loved by other swans. [Anderson himself was a bit of an “Ugly Duckling,” seemingly fathered by the Danish Crown Prince Christian Frederick and yet raised in a poor foster home, welcomed into Royal Society only later in life.]

The journey of our souls follows a similar pattern: Created in Heaven the soul is sent down into this world on a short journey, of seven or eight decades – up to ten if we are lucky. It is raised in a foreign environment, clothed in a physical body sidetracked by physical desires and instincts. Each time the soul tries to be different it gets shouted down: The goals of the soul are most certainly not the goals of the body, and time and again the soul is pressed into silence, as if it does not belong, as if it simply does not fit into this material world.

Yet the time always arrives when the soul wakes up and recognises what it really is. No longer does it see an out-of-place spirit in a physical world … an ugly duckling; it sees something glorious, a glimmer of  Divine light in a dark world, longing for freedom of expression, desperate for recognition. And when we look deep inside, and feel our soul stirring, we have the choice to let it free, or to ignore it; to let it fly heavenwards on graceful wings of love & awe of  G-d, or to deny it that freedom and bury it under the tasks and chores of our everyday lives.

The soul is always flickering within, waiting for us to respond. The choice is up to us.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Zalman Lent


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