Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Vayikra 5775, March 2015; Humility

At the beginning of this week's parsha, Moshe Rabbeinu who has travelled directly to Shamayim and sat at the foot of G-d's own throne (figuratively speaking), arrives at the newly constructed Mishkan, and stops there. He will not enter until explicitly invited to (Vayikra Rabbah, Targum Yonatan), no matter that he has already been to Shamayim and back and is regularly visited by G-d in the Ohel Moed. Without explicit permission, he is sure he is not allowed to enter.
It's probably easy to be humble when you're being used as a
When G-d calls to him, he uses the language used by the angels themselves (Yeshayahu 6:3), the gentle "vayikra." Moshe remained so humble at the situation though that on writing the Torah in print, he insisted that the alef in "vayikra" not be written in full size so that it shouldn't be thought he was being directly compared to a heavenly being. He could not re-conjugate the word as it came directly from G-d but could not bring himself to write it in the normal fashion, and so it was written with the small letter (Baal HaTurim).

What are the animals that can be brought as sacrifices? Doves and domesticated beasts, never animals of the forest. A domesticated animal which has been used in idol worship or has been used inappropriately can never be used. For while obviously the beast cannot itself experience haughtiness or pride, the point of bringing a sacrifice is for us to elevate ourselves, and that cannot be done with an animal which has been the focus of what would in us discourage humility.
No, they weren't about to be schechted. We were selecting the
one with the best fleece for the day's use ;)
Bringing a korban (sacrifice) itself would encourage thoughts of humility and mortality. Performing the semicha and vidui as appropriate were of course self-humbling exercises. Seeing the animals parts burned, blood sprinkled on the mizbeyach, seeing the demeanor of the kohen, one could only be driven to teshuva and humility. Seeing others bringing their korbanot likewise would remind everyone that they were on equal footing, for men and women, rich and poor, Jews and non-Jews could bring a korban (non-Jews could bring a korban olah, even if they were idol worshippers)(Midrash HaGadol). And korbanos were brought for good and bad, for teshuva and thanksgiving, for truly despicable deeds and for the sin of inappropriate thoughts.

Olah sacrifices themselves could be brought for not having successfully performed a positive commandment (for something as simple, say, as not having been able to buy a proper esrog or for not having been able to put on tefillin one day); for having broken a negative commandment (the modern equivalent often suggested is thoughtlessly turning on a light or otherwise breaking the laws of the Sabbath by mistake); or they could be brought for the transgression of sinful thoughts (Midrash Tanchuma).  For as Rambam says, "Sinful thoughts only enter a heart which is devoid of wisdom."  Not only what we do but what and how we think are the realm of Torah.  That idea alone can only invite humility on reflection, for we are in control of our thoughts even if we are not fully in control of our mood in some cases. Imagine if we today were liable for korbanos for such transgressions. How careful would we be with our thoughts, our actions, our speech? When we pray and when we perform positive mitzvahs, we should bear this in mind, for those are our modern ways of performing korbanos. We can enrich our daily actions by reminding ourselves we are expiating sin by being conscious of sinful thoughts, doing teshuva, and throwing ourselves wholeheartedly into the performance of our mitzvahs. This is an idea which invokes humility in me in truth.

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