Parashas Vayikra

This week’s parashah begins the Torah’s discussion of korbanos (offerings). Early in the parashah, the Torah presents the following law about burnt offerings (Vayikra 1:11): “And he shall slaughter it on the side of the altar, to the north before Hashem.” The Midrash teaches (Tanna D’Vei Eliyahu Rabbah 6; Yalkut Shimoni I:99):
On the very day that Avraham bound his son Yitzchak on the altar, the Holy One Blessed Be He established two daily offerings of sheep, one for the morning and one for the afternoon. Why did He go to such lengths? Because when the People of Israel bring the daily offering, of which it is written, “And he shall slaughter it on the side of the altar, to the north (tzafonah) before Hashem,” the Holy One Blessed Be He recalls the binding of Yitzchak [a merit for the Jewish People that continues to be held in store (tzafun) before Hashem].
The Maggid analyzes the connection between the binding of Yitzchak and the daily offering – a connection, which, on the surface, seems tenuous.
Every mitzvah involves two elements: the mitzvah act and the zeal in doing the mitzvah. For the mitzvah to be complete, both elements are required. But Hashem, in His great kindness, gives us credit for a mitzvah even when only one element is present. He accepts from us mitzvah acts done without zeal. And conversely, if a person firmly sets out to do a mitzvah but is prevented by some circumstance from carrying out the mitzvah act, Hashem gives him credit for the mitzvah as if he had actually done the mitzvah act (see Kiddushin 40a). Only when both elements are lacking are we left entirely without credit.
Now, the Gemara in Berachos 17a relates that when R. Alexandri finished the Amidah, he would say: “It is revealed and known before You that our desire is to do Your will. What holds us back? The leaven in the dough [i.e., the evil inclination] and our subjugation to foreign kingdoms.” We can interpret R. Alexandri’s prayer as referring to two distinct types of threats that operate, respectively, against the two elements of a mitzvah. The evil inclination, for the most part, works to dampen our zeal for mitzvos. If a person is a believer, his evil inclination will not lead him to an outright violation of a Torah law, such as eating on Yom Kippur or eating chametz on Pesach, but will simply cause him to regard the law as an unwelcome burden. Other threats work against the mitzvah acts themselves. From the time the second Beis HaMikdash was destroyed, we have been unable to bring offerings and perform the Temple service. Exile has prevented most Jews over the course of history from performing the agricultural mitzvos associated specifically with Eretz Yisrael. Oppression under foreign regimes has often kept us from doing certain mitzvos. In the end, with many mitzvos, we have neither credit for cherishing the mitzvah nor credit for doing the mitzvah act. The combined effect of the evil inclination and the hindrances of exile leaves us bereft of both elements. It is this combined effect that R. Alexandri was descrbing in his prayer.
Thus, two separate factors can combine to entirely rub out a mitzvah. The other side of the coin is the situation where two separate factors combine to produce a complete mitzvah. The Midrash that links the binding of Yitzchak to the daily offering provides a striking example of this situation.
With the binding of Yitzchak, Avraham displayed supreme zeal. When Hashem told him to bring Yitzchak as an offering, he took up the charge with zest and alacrity. He rose at daybreak the next day to get an early start, and, contrary to the norm for a man of his stature, he saddled his donkey himself. In the end, however, Hashem told him not to go through with the slaughter. Thus, the mitzvah act remained incomplete. Hashem therefore “saved up” Avraham’s zeal – just as a person who has a suit made will save the leftover cloth with the intent of using it, in combination with some additional cloth, in making another suit in the future. And, preparing the way for Avraham’s zeal to be put to the best possible use, Hashem decided to convey to his descendants an exceedingly lofty mitzvah – the bringing of daily offerings. The descendants, not being on the level of Avraham himself, would not have the inner spiritual resources to approach this awesome mitzvah with the proper measure of zeal. But Hashem would combine Avraham’s zeal with their act to form a complete mitzvah. As the Kohanim slaughtered the daily offering on the north side of the altar (tzafon), Hashem would draw from the reservoir of zeal He kept stored away (tzafun) from the time when Avraham bound his son Yitzchak on an altar on Mount Moriah, to make the daily offering lofty in both thought and deed.
The word lishchot, meaning to slaughter, appears exactly twice in the Bible. The first instance is Bereishis 22:10, the verse describing Avraham’s taking hold of the knife to slaughter his son. The second instance is Yechezkel 40:39, which speaks of offerings. In Bereishis 22:10, the word is spelled incompletely, without the vav, hinting that the slaughtering was not actually completed. In Yechezkel 40:39 the complete spelling is used. The mitzvah of bringing offerings in the Beis HaMikdash is regarded as having been fulfilled in the complete sense, through the combination of Avraham’s thought and the Kohanim’s act.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.