Torah Portion: Vayikra (Leviticus 1-5)
Sacrifices and Self-Control
by Rabbi Ron Jawary
One of the more difficult concepts in the Torah is the idea of a sacrifice. So much of the Torah revolves around it, even describing the smell of the sacrifices as “a pleasing aroma to God” (Lev. 1:9).
In reality, any time we struggle with our character and perform an act of graciousness, kindness, or patience, we’ve made a sacrifice — a sacrifice of the highest caliber. We have overcome our tendency and inclination to take the comfortable and selfish path in life. That, really, is what sacrifices are all about: changing ourselves and growing.
The same Torah that teaches us that the world stands in the merit of sacrifices also teaches us that the world stands in the merit of one who can remain silent in an argument. The inner strength and self-control we exhibit when we do what’s right and don’t allow our ego to get in the way are what can make our lives meaningful. Sacrifices and self-control are the same thing — they show that we understand what’s really important in life, and that our relationships with those around us are more important than getting our way. That’s why so much of the Torah revolves around sacrifices: we’re surrounded by the opportunity to make such a “sacrifice” every day.
Most importantly, if we realize how much is achieved through such self-control, we’ll see that it never was a sacrifice at all, but an opportunity to get out of our pettiness and achieve real greatness.
Shaken from the Dream
by Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt
One of the offerings mentioned in this week’s portion is the chatat, which is brought when a person inadvertently commits a transgression worthy of the death penalty. For example, a man accidentally sleeps with his sister.
The obvious question one must ask, as with all cases of chatat, is how could one possibly do this by accident? Well, he could forget that something like this is not allowed. Or he could think that he is actually sleeping with someone else. But whatever way you cut it, the bottom line is that this represents an incredible level of negligence over here. In order to do something like this by accident, a person must be living in some kind of amoral dream world.
So the Torah gives something to bang him over the head and wake him up. He takes a cow to the Temple in Jerusalem. He watches as it is killed, chopped up, and burnt to ashes on the altar. He sees very bluntly and vividly just how fragile life is. And hopefully the experience will shake him out of his moral apathy. Hopefully he will take to heart that the day is short, there is much to accomplish in this world, and he can’t afford to dream his way through life.
As with any Jewish ritual, it only works as well as the person experiencing it allows it. If he sleeps through his chatat, as he is doing through the rest of his life, it will have no effect on him whatsoever. Torah is not a magic formula — i.e. do the ritual and it has the spiritual effect. Torah merely puts a person in an environment in which he can wake up to the value of life should he choose to do so. But the choice always remains his.
As a final point, I’ve heard it said that the concept of offerings is a tad barbaric, maybe. But by the same token, slaughtering an animal and stuffing its meat down one’s throat sounds no less barbaric.
Why is it okay to kill an animal in order to walk on its hide, but not okay to kill an animal in order to wake oneself up to the meaning of life?
I know which one seems more civilized to me.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“Do not be wise in words, — be wise in deeds” — Jewish Proverb
JOKE OF THE WEEK
Sarah was at home one day sick in bed with her young daughter Rivkah. Rivkah was about four, and always wanted to be of help to her mommy. So while her mother was sick, young Rivkah got a magazine for her mom, fluffed all the pillows for her, and even made her a cup of tea.
Sarah was very pleased with the tea and asked Rivkah how she had ever learned to make tea on her own. Rivkah proudly told her mom, “Well mommy, I’ve seen you do it tons of times. Only this time I couldn’t find the strainer, so I used the fly swatter instead.”
“YOU WHAT!?!?!” Sarah cried.
“Oh don’t worry mommy,” Rivkah said. “I didn’t use the new fly swatter, I used the old one.”
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