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VaYikra - Zachor

This Issue's Halacha Article

Parshat VaYikra - Zachor

8 Adar Bet 5768

March 15, 2008

Vol.17 No.26

In This Issue:

Commemorating Shabbat and Amaleik

by Rabbi Yehuda Chanales

While the custom to read Parashat Zachor on Shabbat may be based on practical considerations, the Midrash Tanchuma finds a connection between the ideas of Shabbat and destroying Amaleik. Based on the similar command, "Zachor," "Remember" that is used for each obligation, the Midrash concludes that "Sheneihem Shekulin" "They (the two Mitzvot) are equivalent." In what ways are these ideas similar? Is every idea we are told to remember equivalent, or did Chazal see some special connection between Shabbat and Amaleik?

If we look carefully at Parashat Zachor, we will find another word that the Torah uses that reminds us of Shabbat. We are commanded to destroy Amaleik only "BeHaniach Hashem Elokecha Lecha MiKol Oyevecha MiSaviv," "when Hashem allows you to rest from all those around you." Like Shabbat, the Mitzvah of destryoing Amaleik must be accomplished in a time period of Menuchah, rest. This connection between Amaleik and Menuchah is furthered in Megillat Ester. The days of Purim that we celebrate do not commemorate the days on which the Jews were actively fighting the war against their enemies. Even though these are the days when the Jews were victorious in overturning Haman's decree and defeating their enemies, Purim celebrates the day when "VeNoach MeiOyeveihem," "[The Jews] rested from their enemies" (Ester 9:16). Why must this holiday, like the battle against Amaleik, occur only when it is time to rest?

In the modern world, rest and relaxation are valued as a way to take time off, forget about the rush of our daily routine, and simply enjoy ourselves. While that certainly is part of the "Menuchah" that we experience on Shabbat, resting on Shabbat also gives us an opportunity to take a step back and consider the previous and upcoming weeks. When Hashem rested on the first Shabbat of creation, He was able to look not only at the events of the previous day or two, but at "Kol Asher Asah," "everything He had done" and proclaim "VeHineih Tov Meod," "and it was very good" (Bereishit 1:31). Only after the Sheishet Yemei HaMaaseh are complete and (as one famous song tell us) "We throw away our hammer with nothing left to do," can we reflect and internalize the lessons of our successes and challenges. Psychologists tell us that true change requires shifting perspectives, which in turn requires time to consider the "bigger picture" of things.

Amaleik preyed on the Jews when they were "Ayeif VeYageia," "tired and weary" (Devarim 25:18), lacking the time or energy to be "Yarei Elokim." According to Chazal, Amaleik questioned the Jews' spiritual commitment to Hashem, and did so to those who were incapable of reflecting or examining how to respond properly. Therefore, our battle against Amaleik not only seeks their physical destruction, but also includes uprooting the opportunism that Amaleik represents. Similarly, throughout the Megillah, Achashveirosh and Haman are both presented as characters that make decisions without considering the broader implications of those decisions. Achashveirosh is angered by Vashti's refusal to appear before him, and in his anger he chooses to send her away. (The next Perek begins by telling us that after "the king's anger subsided," he regretted his decision regarding Vashti.) Haman is angered by Mordechai's refusal to bow down, and he chooses to run to the king and demand Mordechai's execution. For the Jewish people to appreciate the true miraculous nature of their salvation, they must be capable of looking beyond the moment and recognizing Hashem's hand in the entire story.

Amaleik can be destroyed only when we are at rest, and Purim may be celebrated only on the day after the battle, the day of resting from our enemies. It is only befitting that on the day of reflection and commemoration we celebrate each week, we have the custom of remembering those who attempted to take opportunities like these away from us.

The Mysterious Role of Korbanot

by Yakir Forman

Parashat VaYikra deals mainly with the laws of the Korbanot. The Rishonim struggle to find the reason for these seemingly cruel animal sacrifices. The Rambam in his Mishneh Torah (Hilchot Me'ilah 8:8) writes that the Mitzvah of Korbanot is a Chok, a Mitzvah whose purpose is unknown to us. The Rambam in his Moreh Nevuchim (3:32), on the other hand, claims that the purpose of Korbanot is to get Bnei Yisrael used to refraining from Avodah Zarah. Animal sacrifices were a common idolatrous practice at that time, including among Bnei Yisrael, and Hashem understood that Bnei Yisrael would not be able to accept the drastic change from Avodah Zarah with Korbanot to Avodat Hashem without Korbanot. Therefore, He allowed them to continue their normal rituals of Korbanot as long as they were directed to Hashem, not to Avodah Zarah. Similarly, at the beginning of Parashat BeShalach, the Torah states that Hashem chose to avoid the direct route from Mitzrayim to Eretz Yisrael, as that would bring Bnei Yisrael into war with the Pelishtim, and He knew that they would not be able to accept the drastic change from a slave people to a people fighting for their own land. He therefore allowed a middle step, namely, wandering through the desert. Here too, the middle step between Avodah Zarah and Avodat Hashem seems to be the Korbanot, a method of Avodat Hashem that is similar to Avodah Zarah. How can this contradiction within the Rambam be explained?

Rav Shlomo Aviner, in his Sefer Tal Chermon, proposes a solution to this apparent inconsistency. He quotes the Maharit, who comments that it is natural for a person to want to serve a god. Rav Aviner explains that the Rambam in the Mishneh Torah regards the Mitzvah of Korbanot as a Chok because in our limited intelligence, we cannot understand why Korbanot would be an appropriate way to serve Hashem. However, in Moreh Nevuchim, the Rambam explains what the absence of Korbanot causes. We will still fulfill this drive to serve a god, but through Avodah Zarah, not Avodat Hashem. Thus, the Korbanot function to make sure that we don't naturally transition back to Avodah Zarah. The power of this drive is so great that it overpowered even the compassion of parents upon their children, as evident in the worship of Molech, in which parents passed their children through a fire, and in Akeidat Yitzchak. This explains a story found in the Gemara (Yoma 69b). When the Anshei Kenesset HaGedolah prayed for the Yeitzer HaRa for Avodah Zarah to be destroyed, they saw it as "a lion leaving the Kodesh HaKodashim." Why is the Yeitzer HaRa for Avodah Zarah found in the holiest place of Avodat Hashem? The answer is that the drive of the Yeitzer HaRa towards Avodah Zarah is the same drive that makes people determined to serve Hashem. When we lost this drive, we also lost our foundation of love for Hashem and enthusiasm to serve Him. Our job today is to regain that enthusiasm and thereby be Zocheh to use it in the best way, through the Korbanot.

Rav Aviner also points out that there are two types of Korbanot - desirable and repulsive Korbanot. Desirable Korbanot serve the correct purpose, using one's drive towards service of a god to come closer to Hashem and to improve. On the other hand, repulsive Korbanot are Korbanot a person brings as a religious ritual to achieve forgiveness for his previous sins and allow him to continue sinning. These Korbanot certainly are not the ones we are commanded to bring, as Yirmiyahu clearly states, "Ki Lo Dibarti Et Avoteichem VeLo Tzivitim BeYom Hotzi'I Otam MeiEretz Mitzrayim Al Divrei Olah VaZavach," "For I did not speak with your forefathers, nor did I command them, on the day I took them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt- or peace-offerings" (Yirmiyahu 7:22). Repulsive Korbanot act directly against the purpose of the Mitzvah of Korbanot. We bring Korbanot to keep us away from Avodah Zarah; repulsive Korbanot simply convince the sinner that he can continue to sin. Without keeping their purpose in perspective, Korbanot are meaningless.

Since the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash, Tefillah has been the substitute for Korbanot. While we may no longer have the same drive to serve a god, we have a need to depend on someone. Tefillah provides us the opportunity to choose Hashem. The problem of meaningless, routine Tefillah has replaced the problem of repulsive Korbanot. We must concentrate on Tefillah as an opportunity to attach ourselves to Hashem and His Mitzvot and as a commitment to improve our Avodat Hashem.

Kohen Caliber

by Chaim Metzger

Parashat VaYikra, in detailing the particulars of the priestly service, several different terms are used to refer to the Kohanim. In some instances, they are referred to as Bnei Aharon HaKohanim, in others as Bnei Aharon HaKohen, and in others still as individuals, HaKohen. Why would the Torah possibly need all of these names for the Kohanim?

Torah appears to be requiring the use of three different levels of Kehunah, priesthood, in the Mishkan. During any given situation, a certain level of Kehunah must be met. Once the wood and fire of a Korban are already set into place, the process of offering the Korban can be completed by any Kohen, regardless of qualifications, since in this instance the Torah identifies the Kohen merely as "HaKohen" (VaYikra 1:9). When the offering has yet to be prepared, the Torah states, "Bnei Aharon HaKohanim" (1:8), denoting the fact the Kohanim needed for this element of the process must be exemplary in their service and must conduct themselves in accordance with the Pasuk, "Lemaan Tilmad LeYirah Et Hashem" (Devarim 14:23), which the Sifrei explains as meaning that their service must cause people to fear Hashem. As such, the Torah requires Kohanim of a certain caliber for the task. The most demanding task was that of bringing down the fire from heaven to the Mizbeiach and was given only to those who knew how to act as Aharon HaKohen did, as these Kohanim would be in nearly direct contact with the heavens. Thus, the Torah describes these Kohanim as "Bnei Aharon Hakohen" (VaYikra 1:7).

This stratification of Kehunah can teach us something about our daily lives. In a society where everyone is observant and prepared to devote his life to the ways of Hashem, no matter what view one follows on a particular matter one will achieve personal perfection. Conversely, in a situation where many people are ignorant of their surroundings and many corrupted versions of Judaism have surfaced along with other negative influences, we must ascertain that those teaching the ways of the Torah are fit for their position. Just as Kohanim must meet certain criteria, so must the teachers of the Torah. When the Jewish community enters dire situations, it must have someone to "breathe" new life into the people; the person who rises to the occasion must be on an extremely high plateau. In that spirit, we must rely on the current and future leaders of the Jewish people to follow the Path of Aharon and guide the Jewish people on a path that is in accordance with our Mesorah and the words of the Torah.

-Adapted from Darash Moshe

Look Who's Calling?

by Isaac Shulman

Parashat VaYikra begins with the words "VaYikra El Moshe" "And He [Hashem] called to Moshe"(VaYikra 1:1). Why does the Torah use the peculiar wording, VaYikra, he called, instead of VaYeira, He appeared? Rashi expounds that VaYikra denotes that Hashem called to Moshe and Moshe "heard" the beckoning of Hashem; however, the Jews around him did not. Similarly, Rav Yaakov Neuberger says, "Apparently, we are to understand through this… that moments of spiritual clarity, epiphanies of spiritual growth, come and go. However, inspired individuals will seize the moments and craft a life around them." Moshe had the remarkable ability to "hear" the calling of Hashem. There are many examples of Moshe rising to the occasion, upon "hearing" Hashem beckoning him. When Moshe saw an Egyptian taskmaster ruthlessly beating a Jew, while no one else stood up to protest, Moshe took action and punished the Egyptian for his wrongdoing. Similarly, when Moshe observed a Jew raising his hand to strike his fellow, Moshe took a stand, rebuking the two Jews for fighting. Moshe Rabbeinu had the innate ability to hear when Hashem was calling upon him to take action and to respond to this calling. As we approach Parashat Zachor and Purim, we have a chance to reflect on the Purim story. Times seemed dismal for Bnei Yisrael. It would have been difficult to understand the true, divine purpose of Vashti's death sentence, Ester being crowned the new queen, and Mordechai overhearing and reporting the planned assassination of the king if you were living in those times. However, Mordechai, seeing Hashem's hand in these events, understood that these were all part of Hashem's divine will, and therefore he told Ester "If you don't save the Jews, someone else will," recognizing that everything was part of a larger plan woven by Hashem. By contrast, Amalek's standard explanation of even miraculous events was coincidence or happenstance. Our obligation is to recognize Hashem's hand in everything and seize the moment for our own spiritual growth.

Last week a terrible tragedy befell Klal Yisrael in Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav in Yershalyim. We cannot hope to understand the divine meaning and purpose behind this tragedy, but let us hope for the inner strength to seize this moment for our own spiritual growth, as opposed to becoming enraged and spiteful towards Hashem. Let us hope that we can hear Hashem's "call," and use it for our individual and collective spiritual growth as Moshe did, and let us always remember that Hashem has a long term plan in sight, even if it is hidden from us, as it was in the story of Purim.

The Backbone of Judaism

by Leead Staller

Parashat VaYikra is renowned for having a miniature letter Aleph at the end of the first word of the Parasha. Many Meforshim suggest that Moshe, against the will of Hashem, wrote the word VaYikra with a small Aleph as an act of humility. By seeming to write the word "VaYikar," "And it happened," without the Aleph, as opposed to "VaYikra," "And he called," with the Aleph, Moshe sought to suggest that God did not call him, seeking his presence, but rather happened to stumble upon him. However, this explanation is very difficult to understand. How could a mortal, Moshe, defy the will of the omnipotent, omnipresent, and ultimately ineffable Hashem, and decide to change the infallible Torah Temimah?

Parashat VaYikra begins by introducing numerous new Korbanot, animal sacrificies, to Bnei Yisrael, including the Korban Chatat, the sin-offering. Perhaps Hashem intended this lesson of humility to be juxtaposed to Korbanot to send us a message. Moshe wasn't disobeying Hashem, but complying. However, what was Hashem trying to convey to us via this juxtaposition? To answer this question, the purpose of a Korban must be explained.

The Ramban suggests that Korbanot have a direct correlation to Akeidat Yitzchak, and when we sacrifice an animal, it is really a substitute for the abominable action of sacrificing a human life. The Ramban seems to suggest that were it not for the repulsiveness of slaughtering a human being, Hashem would condone human sacrifice. How can the Ramban make such an audacious claim?

Surely there must be a deeper meaning to what the Ramban stated. By saying "sacrificing a human being," he may not mean a sacrifice of the Guf, the physical body, but rather the sacrifice of our "freedom" by consenting to serve Hakodesh Baruch Hu as "Ovdei Hashem." To humans, enslavement is comparable to death. For instance, Patrick Henry is notably quoted as saying, "Give me liberty or give me death!" It appears that without liberty, death is inevitable. The Ramban is saying that sacrificing animals isn't instead of sacrificing human lives, but rather a Zecher of what we have sacrificed from our lives. By seeing this symbol of the Brit we have between ourselves and Hashem, and realizing how much we have sacrificed to keep it, one cannot help but feel humble and remorseful for having sinned. That is why Korbanot, such as the Korban Chatat, are necessary for transgressors.

The Gemara (Berachot 26b) states that Tefillah was established to parallel the Korbanot. We can also see how humility is vital for Tefillah. When Chizkiyahu HaMelech was plagued with a nearly fatal illness, he beseeched Hashem repeatedly to cure him, but to no avail. Finally, Chizkiyahu was answered and healed. What did Chizkiyahu do differently to warrant an answer the last time, but not the previous times? "VaYomer Anah Hashem Zechor Na Eit Asher Hithalachti LeFanecha BeEmet UVLeiv Shaleim VeHaTov BeEinecha Asiti VaYeivk Chizkiyahu Bechi Gadol," "and he said: 'Remember now, Hashem, I beseech you, how I have walked before you in truth and with a whole heart, and have done that which is good in your sight.' And Chizkiyahu wept a large weep" (Yeshayahu 38:3). In his last prayer, Chizkiyahu concluded by weeping. This degrading act showed Hashem how he acknowledged his helplessness and humbled himself to the point where he was able to clearly understand that he required Hashem's assistance to live. This seemingly small act of humility made all the difference and saved Chizkiyahu's life.

By juxtaposing the message of Moshe's humility contained in the word "VaYikra" to Korbanot and our acceptance to serve Hashem, the Torah conveys a very important point. Observing all of the Mitzvot of the Torah to the letter of the law is improper if unaccompanied by proper Kavanah. Not humbling oneself while doing Mitzvot, but rather doing Mitzvot to impress others or even himself, is inappropriate. This form of performing Mitzvot, as services not to Hashem but rather to one's self or others as means to impress, may eventually lead to Aveirot and the need for a Korban Chatat. If someone is haughty, he will be more willing to disregard the word of Hashem for his own and transgress. This person needs to be taught humility and needs to force his bloated sense of self to subside and to put full faith in the word of Hashem. Humility is a cornerstone of Judaism and is a vital attribute that enables one to fully accept the words of Hashem. BeEzrat Hashem, this humility will lead to the Emunah in Hashem necessary to bring about the Mashiach, BeMheira VeYameinu.