Parashas Vayikra

Sefer Vayikra is largely devoted to the various animal and meal offerings brought in the Mishkan/Mikdash. Chapter 1 of Vayikra deals with burnt-offerings (olos). In Vayikra Rabbah 2:12, the Midrash notes that in the verses that describe an animal offering being placed on the altar, the Torah uses different phrasing in connection with sheep and goats than it does in connection with bulls. When discussing the procedure with a bull, the Torah says: “The Kohen shall cause it all to go up in smoke (v’hiktir) on the altar.” But when discussing the procedure with a sheep or goat, it says: “The Kohen shall bring it all (v’hikriv) and cause it to go up in smoke (v’hiktir) on the altar.” The Midrash remarks: “It is written hikriv in connection with sheep and goats, but not in connection with bulls. This is so that a person should not say to himself: ‘I will go and commit improper acts, and I will then offer a bull, which has a lot of meat. I will bring it to be placed on the altar, and Hashem will have mercy on me and accept my repentance.’”
The Maggid brings out the message of this Midrash with a parable. A wealthy merchant conducted business through two agents. Once, the agents were negligent in safeguarding the merchandise, and it was all stolen. The agents returned home in shame, and pleaded with the merchant to compromise with them on the sum they owed him for this loss. The merchant agreed to let them pay only a small percentage of the amount of the loss. In addition, he allowed them to make the payments in installments: three gold pieces a week for a set period. One of the agents was moderately well-off, and he decided to pay more than the agreed amount; instead of three gold pieces, he brought seven. The other agent was very poor, and one week he brought only two gold pieces. He pleaded with the merchant to accept the two gold pieces as full payment for that week, for he had strained himself greatly to obtain them. The merchant agreed. Moreover, he treated the fellow cordially, even more so than with the other agent, and the onlookers asked him why.
The merchant replied: “Even though the first fellow is paying more than twice the agreed amount, what he is paying is essentially nothing compared to the amount of the loss. The only reason I told them to pay three gold pieces a week is that so that they would be pained over the loss, and more diligent in future ventures. I figure that if they work hard enough the next time, they will make up for the loss. Now, I can see that the fellow who brought me only two gold pieces is extremely embarrassed. I am sure he will be very diligent from now on. But the fellow who brought seven gold pieces is proud of himself, as if he has done a fine job of compensating for the loss. He will not be so diligent in the future, and is likely to make the same type of careless mistake again.”
Likewise, when a person brings an offering to atone for a sin, the offering is essentially nothing compared with the damage caused by what he did. In actuality, the atonement is not brought about through the offering itself, but rather through the broken-heartedness of the person bringing the offering. A person who brings a costly bull is liable to feel that he has compensated well for his misdeed, and may therefore not take due care to avoid sinning again. But a person who can bring only a sheep or goat is embarrassed by the paltry value of his offering. As a result, he takes great care to avoid further sinning, and thereby compensates many times over for his sin.
PS: The commentators on Vayikra teach that the purpose of an offering is not to give Hashem a “payoff,” far be it, but rather to bring oneself close to Hashem. This is reflected in the Hebrew term for offering, korban – which is derived from the word karov, meaning “close.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

1 Comment

  1. North Jerusalem Maggid of Dubno Project » Blog Archive » Parashas Vayikra:

    […] placed on the altar, and Hashem will have mercy on me and accept my repentance.’” In a previous d’var Torah, we presented a selection from the Maggid’s commentary on this Midrash. The basic theme […]

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