Vayikra- The Responsibility of “Adam, Ki Yakriv Mikem…”

Our סדרה opens up the book of ויקרא with a discussion of the many different types of קרבנות that can be brought by an individual and a group. First off, we’re given a background on the bringing of an offering- the setting aside of an animal, slaughtering it, throwing the blood, etc. In introduction to this introduction, we read:

דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם, אָדָם כִּי-יַקְרִיב מִכֶּם קָרְבָּן, לה’–מִן-הַבְּהֵמָה, מִן-הַבָּקָר וּמִן-הַצֹּאן, תַּקְרִיבוּ, אֶת-קָרְבַּנְכֶם
Speak to the children of Israel, saying to them: When a person wants to bring from himself an offering to G-d, he shall bring an offering from an animal, cow or sheep. (ויקרא א:ב)

Many מפרשים ask about the seemingly repetitive and downright unnecessary nature of this פסוק. What do we learn from here, they ask, that “if a man would like to bring a קרבן… he should bring a קרבן?” There is clearly something deeper going on here, especially as this verse is the closest place in the entire ספר to an explanation of why a Jew would bring an offering.

Rav Ovadia Sforno, in his commentary on our פסוק, zeroes in on the especially unnecessary word “מכם.” When focusing on the wording of these introductory verses, it becomes very clear that this phrase does not seem to add anything to our understanding of the קרבנות. Furthermore, this word is not necessary at all to the פסוק- it could have easily just said “אדם כי יקריב קרבן לה’.” What is the significance of this word “מכם?”

Sforno answers that we can learn from this word that the most important part of the process of bringing a קרבן is the process of giving to G-d, even before the actual offering is brought. When a person promises to offer an animal to Hashem, he sets aside the beast and sanctifies it to be brought to G-d in His House. Months later, he will bring it to the בית המקדש (or the משכן, in the times of the Torah), following up on his earlier promise and proving that when he set aside the animal, he was truly giving “מכם” for his Creator.
As Sforno writes:

כי אין חפץ בכסילים המקריבים בלתי הכנעה קודמת
For [G-d] doesn’t desire [the offerings of] fools who bring offerings without an prior preparation (ספורנו שם)

We can learn from here a crucial lesson, of the importance of thinking before serving G-d. Hashem loves our עבודה, but He desires it even more when we’ve put in effort beforehand to prepare for our service, whether through sanctifying our objects, our actions, or our thoughts. Without this all-important הכנה, Hashem will only view our prayers and service as those of a כסיל, a fool, who has fulfilled his obligation while completely missing the point of עבודת השם, to give “מכם להשם.”

This week, we will be conducting our annual reading of פרשת החודש, but with a unique twist. Unlike the past few years, שבת החודש this year falls out on the same exact date as “החודש הזה” was given to Moshe in Egypt, on א’ ניסן so many centuries ago. Back then, Hashem commanded משה in the bringing of the קרבן פסח, an activity that all Jews would participate in scarcely two weeks later. However, immediately before this, a small commandment, the first מצוה ever given to the Jewish people, is slipped into the פסוקים, very much like the small hint before the קרבנות in פרשת ויקרא:

הַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה לָכֶם, רֹאשׁ חֳדָשִׁים: רִאשׁוֹן הוּא לָכֶם, לְחָדְשֵׁי הַשָּׁנָה.
This month will be for you the beginning of months; it will be the first of the months of the year (שמות יב:ב)

That’s it. The first מצוה given to our people, is the establishment of our calendar with א’ ניסן as the New Year (something which we ironically do not keep on our modern day calendar). חז”ל teach from here the importance of sanctifying our time as an integral part of this first commandment, remembering that every second is precious and we must spend our valuable time in the best ways possible. Only after telling Moshe and the Jewish People of this important command could G-d continue onto the instructions for the קרבן פסח, and final preparations before the Exodus from Egypt.

Once again, we are reminded of the lesson of ספרונו in פרשת ויקרא. In order to bring the Pesach offering before Hashem and merit to be taken out of Egypt, the Jewish people had to take care of important business first- they needed to sanctify their time and their belongings, and only then could they be ready to leave Egypt.

Before reading פרשת החודש this Shabbat, a second ספר תורה will be placed on the בימה, and the seventh aliyah will be read from “וביום השבת” in פרשת פינחס, a reading which speaks of the קרבנות מוסף of Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh. However, looking into the context of this reading, one can’t help but notice that before reaching the section which contains the Mussaf offerings of the חגים, one must pass the story at the beginning of the סדרה of Pinchas’s zealotry. This once again reminds us of the same important lesson- before the Jewish People could merit to receive the instructions of the special קרבנות of the holidays, they first had to demonstrate that they could give of themselves to Hashem, especially in the face of the disgusting abominations being committed by the Moabites. Only after Pinchas rallied the Jews to action, killing the sinners and showing that they could sacrifice “מכם לה’,” could they merit the special קרבנות given at the end of פרשת פינחס.

In summary, we’ve seen from each of the three Torah readings that will be read by Jews around the world this week, that by far the most important part of עבודת השם is השתדלות, the giving of ourselves to G-d that allowed Jews on an individual level to bring their personal offerings to G-d, as well as allowing us to bring the קרבן פסח and קרבני מוסף on a national level. Without “כי יקריב מכם קרבן לה’,” even a קרבן can be seen as meaningless, brought by misled כסילים who know “how” but not “why.”

As many of those who have not been living under a rock or in Dutch Pennsylvania for the past few months know, this past Tuesday was a very important and significant day- the elections for the Twentieth Israeli Knesset. While the official results will not be released until they are delivered to President Rivlin next week Wednesday, the 99% of votes counted so far show a decisive victory for Likud and the right-wing bloc of the Israeli government. Showing one of the highest voter turnouts in recent Israeli history, the election demonstrated a key difference between American voters and Israeli voters. In the United States, one of the biggest threats to elections is voter apathy, where average Americans don’t have enough of an opinion about the issues to vote, causing the turnout for the 2012 Presidential Election to be a mere 54.9% of the population of eligible voters. On the other hand, as anyone who has ever visited Israel can attest, a lack of a strong opinions has never been a problem for the average Israeli. What often takes longer, however, is forming this opinion, causing drastic changes between projections and results in Israeli elections, as many do not make up their minds until the last minute. Thanks to this, and several last minute pushes by Prime Minister Netanyahu to pull voters in his direction, the right-wing parties won this election against all odds.

During my morning run through Jerusalem’s predominantly Haredi Bayit Vegan neighborhood on Election Day, I was horrified to discover the following flyers being given out, hung on street poles, and strewn on sidewalks:

20150317_110148 20150317_110153 20150317_110200

Each of these quotes a different Rav (many of them long dead), claiming that a G-d fearing Jew should not vote in Tuesday’s election, promising blessings, riches, health, and happiness to those who listen. While I would never ever think to call a Rabbi’s ruling wrong, it does seem a little bit unusual that these posters feature פסקים of גדולים, such as the Baba Sali, who passed away long before half of the parties running in this election even existed. Furthemore, I believe that ספורנו’s lesson from our סדרה, as well analogous approaches to פרשיות בא and פינחס, show that the message of these posters is far from correct. Allow me to elaborate:

Whether one considers him/herself a Zionist, it is clear that there is a מצוה to live in Eretz Yisrael. Even the רבנים pictured in the fliers lived in the Holy Land, fulfilling the מצוה despite their clear distaste for our Jewish government. A major reason that most religious Jews live here is because of their belief that eventually the משיח will come here, and, upon his coming, we will be able to re-establish the Davidic dynasty and rebuild the third Bet Hamikdash. Despite the disagreement as to the function of the current, mainly secular, government, this conviction is shared by almost all religious Jews living here.

Bringing משיח is very much the same as bringing a קרבן- it requires “כי יקריב מכם… לה’,” clear, selfless effort on everyone’s part. On a personal level, this effort could involve moving to Israel, defending the Jewish State in the IDF and/or through Torah learning, or praying for the גאולה (my long-time readers should not have any doubts on how I personally feel the best way to bring משיח is). However, on a global level, some unity is required to ensure the security of עם ישראל and the אתחלתא דגאולה. Tuesday was one such time- with the close race between the strong right and an even stronger left, an enemy promising to ally itself with the Arab MK’s who call for the destruction of their employer, and promising a peace deal with the Palestinian people ruled by Hamas, it was clear that the existence of the State of Israel was very much on the line in Tuesday’s vote.

This is why it was so painful to see these posters in Bayit Vegan on Tuesday. Taking a quote from Rav Shmuel Aurbach completely out of context, the makers of this poster put their selfish political and religious needs before those of עם ישראל. Rejecting the rulings of contemporary Rabanim that are just as great and just as Haredi, such as Rav Shteinman and Rav Shternbach (neither of whom would ever be accused of giving too much religious support to the State of Israel), these individuals failed to see what has been demonstrated above. They crave the גאולה just as we do. They look forward to a day when Torah law will run our fair country and threats of terror and pressure from the west will be no more, just as we do. Unfortunately, they do not have the strength to put “their money where their mouths are,” and vote to ensure it actually stands a chance of happening. We all believe that Hashem will ensure our people’s continued survival, but we also have an obligation to put in our effort to ensure it happens. Sometimes this requires defending עם ישראל with weapons and Torah. On Tuesday, however, all that was necessary to defend the Jewish People was rejecting the pressure of religious fanatics who perverted the ruling of a contemporary Rabbi, and a Sefardi Gadol who passed away over thirty years ago, and showing up to a voting booth to put a small piece of paper into an envelope. Was that really too much to ask for one to be “יקריב מכם לה'”, to ensure that the endgame, ביאת המשיח, will finally come?

Even though, with Hashem’s help, the right-wing parties of the government were able to scrape together a more than modest victory, and, with promises from Prime Minister Netanyahu to stop the Palestinian peace process going forward, things have never looked better, it is important to look back to Tuesday and see how close Israel was to losing its election. We cannot allow religious fanatics to pervert the words of גדולי ישראל to promote their agenda of trying to dismantle מדינת ישראל- aside from the political ramifications of the future government, it also goes against every ideal that we will be reading about on Shabbat. A person must invest in order to gain from this world, and one cannot truly hope to bring משיח without also being “מקריב מכם,” doing his part to ensure that Israel continues to exist.With Hashem’s help, we will merit to see a time when all Jews truly appreciate the values of “אדם כי יקריב מכם קרבן לה'” and the coming of the final גאולה, very very soon.