Parashas Vayikra

Sefer Vayikra focuses mainly on offerings. From the Jewish perspective, an offering is not a “gift” we give Hashem to prompt Him to grant us blessing. Hashem does not need gifts. Rather, when a Jew brings an offering, his aim is to express the idea that he is offering himself to Hashem and devoting himself to Him.
Our Sages note that, in the verses in Chapter 1 of Vayikra 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 (Vayikra Rabbah 2:12): “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.’” In a previous d’var Torah, we presented a selection from the Maggid’s commentary on this Midrash. The basic theme is that Hashem prefers a less impressive offering brought with humility to a more impressive offering brought with a boastful attitude. We elaborate here with some further portions of the Maggid’s commentary on the Midrash.
In discussing the differences between one righteous person and another, our Sages state (Avos D’Rabbi Nassan 37:9, paraphrased): “When both are eating the same dish, the flavor each tastes is according to his deeds.” For instance, when two people are eating steaks from the same cut of meat, one of them may enjoy his steak more than the other because he put more effort into the preparation. Similarly, when two people perform the same mitzvah, one person’s mitzvah may be more pleasing to Hashem than the other’s because he put more devotion into it. Hashem actually has no need for the mitzvah act itself, just as He has no need for gifts from us. Thus, it is written (Iyov 22:3): “Is the Almighty gratified when you do right? Does He benefit when you perfect your ways?” Rather, what matters to Hashem is the devotion with which the mitzvah is done. In particular, when a person brings a sin-offering, what interests Hashem is not the offering itself, but rather the contrition that accompanies the offering and the commitment to exercise more care in the future. Hashem is pleased by a humble and devoted heart.
In Chanah’s song of thanks to Hashem on the birth of her son Shmuel, she declares (Shmuel Alef 2:7): “Hashem makes poor and makes rich; He brings low and also raises up.” We may ask why Chanah added the word “also” to the second half of this declaration. The Maggid explains the import of this added word as follows. It is Hashem’s practice to feel compassion for the lowly and elevate them, and to feel antipathy toward the lofty and lower them. Because of this Divine practice, a person might find himself constantly oscillating between poverty and wealth. While he is poor, he feels humble, so Hashem elevates him and grants him wealth. And then, while he is rich, he feels haughty, so Hashem lowers him. The cycle can continue indefinitely. The only way a person can break the cycle and stay wealthy is to maintain a dual attitude: He should appreciate and feel glad about his wealth, yet continue to view himself as lowly. Even when wealthy, we depend constantly on Hashem’s compassion, and to receive it, we have to stay humble. We must be lowly while also elevated.
The above discussion is reflected in the following verse (Yeshayah 61:10): “I shall rejoice greatly in Hashem – my soul shall jubilate in my God. For He has clothed me in the raiment of salvation and cloaked me in a robe of charity.” To bring out the connection, the Maggid introduces a parable. A pauper went traveling from city to city collecting alms. After some time, he accumulated a sizeable sum. He thought to buy himself some fine clothes to make himself look more respectable, like other workers do when they make a good sum of money. A friend of his chided him for this plan, saying: “You fool! Don’t consider yourself the same as others. With other workers, wearing fine clothes will not impair their earning ability; they can continue their work just as before. But with you it is very different. Right now, people give to you because they see you wearing rags and pity you. If you start wearing fine clothes, people won’t pity you anymore, and they won’t give you a thing.”
The verse from Yeshayah points to the dual attitude that a person must take, as explained above. The first part of the verse uses the Divine Name Hashem, representing the Attribute of Compassion, while the second part of the verse uses the Divine Name Elokim (God), representing the Attribute of Justice. On the one hand, a person must “rejoice greatly in Hashem,” feeling joy over the blessings the Ribbono Shel Olam gives him through His Attribute of Compassion. On the other hand, he must also “jubilate in Elokim,” maintaining an awareness of Hashem’s Attribute of Justice and along with it a sense of humility. Yeshayah speaks of Hashem’s clothing us in “a raiment of salvation” and cloaking us in “a robe of charity” to hint at how Hashem seeks to imbue us with a proper sense of humility. Just as the pauper’s tattered clothes leads people to pity him and help him, so, too, an attitude of humility leads Hashem to show us compassion and bless us.
The Gemara in Berachos 34b relates a story in which R. Yochanan ben Zakai’s son fell ill, and R. Yochanan ben Zakai asked R. Chanina ben Dosa to pray for the lad’s recovery. R. Yochanan ben Zakai’s wife asked him why he sought R. Chanina’s prayers rather than relying on his own prayers. He answered: “Because he is like the king’s servant, while I am like the king’s minister.” The expression the Gemara uses for “like” is the double expression domeh k’ – an odd expression, since the prefix k’ would have been enough. The Maggid interprets the double expression as relating to how the person being spoken of viewed himself. R. Yochanan ben Zakai sought R. Chanina ben Dosa’s prayer because he knew that R. Chanina was humbler. Humility plays a critical role in the effectiveness of prayer. As David HaMelech writes (Tehillim 51:19): “A broken and humbled heart, O God, You will not despise.” Similarly, in expounding on Michah’s statement that Hashem pardons iniquity and overlooks transgression “for the remnant of His estate” (Michah 7:18), the Gemara in Rosh Hashanah 17a-b states that Hashem forgives those who regard themselves as “leftovers.” In the same vein, the Torah associates the term hikriv specifically with the one who offers a sheep or goat, and not with the one who offers a bull, to stress the role of humility in drawing close to Hashem and gaining His support.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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