march 21st, 2015
Nisan 1st 5775
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Learning Devotion from the Offerings
by Rabbi David Pinto Shlita
It is written, “Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them, ‘When a man among you brings an offering to Hashem: From animals, from the cattle or from the flock, you shall bring your offering’ ” (Vayikra 1:2).
The Holy One, blessed be He, revealed Himself to Moshe in the Tent of Meeting and told him to teach the Children of Israel about the offerings. Hence the verse reads, “When a man among you brings,” which seems to indicate that a person should bring himself as an offering to Hashem. We may explain that just as an animal is slaughtered and brought as an offering – which for the animal is an elevation before Hashem – likewise a person should prepare himself to be an offering before Hashem. In reflecting upon this, we see that things are not as simple as they appear, for the animal is led to the slaughter and offered on the altar against its will, meaning contrary to its natural tendencies. Such is not the case for man, however, for he possesses strength and desires, so much so that he cannot be forced to offer himself for Hashem his G-d. Under such conditions, how can a person come to the point of wanting to offer his life to G-d? The Ramban explains that the goal of the offerings is for a person to see what is done to the animal and realize that such things should have been done to himself. However since the Holy One, blessed be He, is merciful, He commanded man to bring an offering in his stead, serving as an atonement for him. Thus when a person sees how the animal is slaughtered and its blood is spilled, he will immediately harbor thoughts of regret and repentance, and he will seek out ways to appease his Creator so that what happened to the animal doesn’t happen to him.
From the time that the Temple was destroyed and the offerings interrupted, we have a two-fold duty to renounce our will before Hashem’s will, since we no longer have offerings to atone for our sins. We must especially accustom ourselves to fulfilling mitzvot by reflecting upon G-d’s will, but not habitually through routine action. We must learn a lesson from the story of Pinchas, who took a spear in his hand and killed Zimri the son of Salu and Cozbi the daughter of Tzur at the same time, without taking into account the risk to himself by doing so. At the time, Pinchas only desired to fulfill the word of Hashem and erase the shame that had been committed in Israel. He disregarded this danger to himself, and was completely prepared to give his life in order to sanctify G-d’s Name in public. Heaven acknowledged the sincerity of his intentions, and he succeeded in killing both Zimri and Cozbi at the same time without incurring any harm to himself. The Sages add that Pinchas was a kohen, meaning that he was forbidden to render himself unclean by contact with a corpse. He therefore merited a great miracle, for Zimri and the non-Jewish Cozbi, who was with him, did not die as long as the spear remained in Pinchas’ hand. They only died when he released it. This teaches us a great deal about how a person is helped from above when he seeks to purify himself. When the Holy One, blessed be He, sees that a person wants to offer himself to Him, He gives him a special blessing in order that he may continue along this path.
Nothing is Promised
We know that little children begin their education with Parsha Vayikra, which deals with the offerings (Tanchuma 96:14). We need to understand why this is so. In fact the details regarding the offerings are numerous and complex, and we may think that it would be wiser to begin teaching children parshiot that deal with the creation of the world and the stories of the Patriarchs, and only then to deal with the offerings. The explanation for why we don’t do this is that among young children, there is a degree of purity that disappears with age, purity that, for example, will prompt a child to sacrifice everything for a piece of candy. Hence the Sages wanted to put this innocence to use, in order to educate children about devotion to Hashem. For just as they are ready to sacrifice everything for some candy, likewise they will be ready to give their lives for the sanctification of G-d’s Name, and there is nothing that pushes a person towards self-annulment more than the offerings. When a child understands that a person deserves what happens to the sacrificed animal, he will immediately accustom himself to doing Hashem’s will with complete devotion in order not to experience what happened to the animal.
Every man in existence was created with a specific purpose, and when he descends into this world, he must fulfill his purpose and attain the necessary degree of perfection.
This is difficult to understand, however, for how can a person know the purpose for which he was created? The world is filled with countless obstacles and difficulties, so what can a person do to determine which ones address themselves specifically to him in the fulfillment of his task? We may say that he should invest all his strength and energy in precisely those areas where he experiences difficulty in serving Hashem. For example, if someone finds it difficult to wake up early in the morning to pray with a minyan, it is possible that Heaven has placed this obstacle before him because his purpose is to strengthen himself in prayer. When he manages to control his emotions and prays with the community, he thus fulfills his purpose. A person who reflects on things will realize that life is filled with trials and misfortunes. No one is promised that everything will happen for the best for him and his family, and nobody knows when tragedy can strike, G-d forbid. Hence everyone must work to identify his weaknesses in serving G-d and strengthen himself in those areas with complete devotion. When the Holy One, blessed be He, sees that a person is making an effort to carry out His will and fulfill his purpose in this world, He will grant him special protection.
Men of Faith
Stories of the Tzaddikim from the Pinto Family
Life by the Merit of Tzeddakah
Rabbi Akiva, originally from the city of Nice, recounted the following story to Rabbi David Hanania Pinto:
In his youth Rabbi Akiva lived in Mogador, near Rabbi Haim Pinto Hakatan, and he was selected to serve the Rav. One day as the Rav was sitting next to him, a Jew passed by with some roosters. The Rav asked him for tzeddakah, but the man replied: “I have nothing to give you.” Rabbi Haim responded: “You have several roosters. Give me one for a poor person.” As the man continued to refuse, all his roosters suddenly died.
He therefore begged the Rav’s forgiveness, adding: “Rav, I was going to host a meal, but now all my roosters are dead! What am I going to feed the guests?” Rabbi Haim said to him, “Go to the shochet, and there they will all revive” – which is precisely what happened.
We have already heard a similar story in regards to Rabbi Haim Pinto Hagadol, a story that relates to a teaching from our Sages: “The deeds of the fathers are a sign to the children.” That is, if the fathers could do this, then the children can do the same.
Still on the subject of tzeddakah and its power, it is said that Rabbi Haim Pinto once met Rabbi Haim Cohen. The tzaddik said to him, “I know that today you intend on taking a bus. Know that all the passengers aboard the bus will die. Therefore give a little money to tzeddakah, and you will be saved.” At that point Rabbi Haim Cohen exclaimed, “In that case, why not tell all the passengers and save them too?” Rabbi Haim Pinto replied, “All the other passengers won’t believe me. That’s why I’m addressing you alone, to tell you what you need to do in order to be protected.”
As things turned out, the bus veered off the top of a cliff and everyone aboard was killed in an instant, except for Rabbi Haim Cohen, who was protected from death by the merit of tzeddakah.
Real Life Stories
Thanking Rav Eliyahu
It is written, “When a man among you brings an offering to Hashem” (Vayikra 1:2).
Rashi examines the precise meaning of the expression “a man [adam],” and he responds: “Just as Adam, the first man, never brought offerings from stolen property, since everything was his, so too must you not bring offerings from stolen property.”
Let us reflect upon the words of the gaon Rabbi David Batzri, the director of the HaShalom yeshiva, who wants to sensitize us to the importance of never using money that doesn’t belong to us:
In honor of the Days of Awe, the Rishon LeTzion, Rav Mordechai Eliyahu, would for many years pray using the siddur of the tzaddik Rabbi Yaakov (the author of Ohalei Yaakov), in which the prayers and supplications (selichot) in their entirety were explained with great depth according to kabbalah and the midrashim. Rav Mordechai Eliyahu always complimented this author and affirmed that his commentary reflected his greatness in all areas of Torah. He once recounted an extraordinary story about both of them, a story that demonstrates just to what point we must pay attention to not touching the personal wealth or money of others.
In his youth, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu was a teacher in the Bucharim neighborhood of Jerusalem, and the heads of numerous households would attend his Torah classes. He once cited a few explanations from Ohalei Yaakov on the prayers of the Days of Awe, and then pointed out that upon hearing the name of Rabbi Yaakov, one participant in the class, an elderly man by the name of Yohan, sat up straight and seemed agitated.
At the end of the class, he approached the Rav and said to him, “Rabbi, I remember Rabbi Yaakov and knew him personally. He was my neighbor, and he lived in great poverty. One day he asked me to lend him a certain amount of money. Obviously I agreed, and he gave me an IOU. However the tzaddik died without having enough time to repay me, and I still have the IOU as a keepsake.”
Shaken by this story, Rav Eliyahu immediately said to the man: “May I ask you a favor? Please declare now that you have forgiven this loan to the tzaddik. When you go back home, write on the IOU: ‘Repaid’ or ‘Forgiven.’ ”
The man asked Rav Eliyahu if he should tell his wife about it, and the Rav replied: “No, there’s no reason to upset her.”
Rav Eliyahu then recounted that on the following morning, after Shacharit, he met the man’s wife, who was waiting for him in front of the synagogue. She said to him, “Rabbi, I have a small question. I dreamed of Rabbi Yaakov, the author of Ohalei Yaakov, who was our neighbor. He told me that since his passing, he hasn’t been allowed into Gan Eden. It was only last night that he was allowed to enter because of you. He asked me to thank you for this great kindness.”
She then added, “I have no idea how authentic this dream was, and I don’t know why he addressed me in particular. Nor do I know why he said that he hasn’t entered Gan Eden for dozens of years, or why he’s had to endure so much suffering. However he asked me to come and thank you for the great kindness that you’ve done for him, and so that’s what I’m doing.”
In the meantime, her husband had come out of the synagogue, and when he saw his wife talking with the Rav, he left them alone so as not to disturb them. However the Rav gestured for him to approach, at which point the husband said to him: “I have to tell you the dream that I had last night.” As it turned out, it was the very same dream that his wife had!
Rav Mordechai Eliyahu then said to the man, “Alright. Now tell your wife what happened yesterday night after class. The man therefore told his wife that he had torn up the IOU yesterday, but upon hearing this she cried out: “Woe to us for having caused the tzaddik such suffering for dozens of years!”
The Rav responded by saying, “Happy are you! You merited lending the tzaddik money when he needed it, and because of you he has now been able to enter Gan Eden in a state of complete purity. Happy are you and happy is your lot!”
The director of the HaShalom yeshiva, Rabbi David Batzri, who recounted this incredible story, concluded by saying: “Obviously Heaven is very exacting with everyone. When the woman told that Rav that he was called “the sage Mordechai” in Heaven, he was stunned by the dream itself, as well as by the title that he was given above.”
It is in a man’s greatness that we find his humility, for when Rav Eliyahu repeated this story, he omitted the words: “the sage Mordechai.” He retold the story only so as to teach the importance of being careful with other people’s money.
The Light of the Zohar
The Offering of Each
It is written, “If one’s offering to Hashem is a burnt-offering of fowl…” (Vayikra 1:14).
Rabbi Yossi asked, “Why should there be three kinds of burnt-offerings: From the herd, from the flock, and from the fowl? Why is not one sufficient? The reason is that if a man can afford it, he brings an ox; and if he cannot afford an ox, he brings a sheep; and if he cannot afford a sheep, he brings a fowl; for G-d does not demand of a man more than he can perform.”
Rabbi Eleazar said: “His offering was to correspond to his sin. A rich man puffed up with his wealth was to bring an ox, because his thoughts were likely to be the most sinful. A man of moderate means brought a sheep because he was not so prone to sin. As for a poor man, who was the most timid of all, he brought the smallest offering of all. And the offering of each was appraised by G-d at its true value.”
– Zohar III:8b
In the Footsteps of our Fathers
Humility: The Foundation of all Virtues
It is written, “And He called [vayikra] to Moshe” (Vayikra 1:1).
In the text of the Torah, the letter aleph in the term vayikra is written smaller than the rest of the letters. Our teacher Rabbi Yaakov Baal HaTurim explains that in his great modesty, Moshe wanted to write vayikar el Moshe (“and He met Moshe”), as was the case for Bilam, meaning that it was as if G-d had appeared to him by chance. However Hashem commanded Moshe to use the term vayikra, and Moshe wrote the letter aleph smaller than the other letters.
The Kli Yakar cites the Yalkut in explaining why a small aleph is used in the term vayikra. He states that the letter aleph refers to an expression of learning, as in the verse: “and I will teach [va'alephcha] you wisdom” (Job 33:33). This implies that the study of Torah endures only with someone who diminishes himself. The mashgiach Rabbi Yechezkel Lewinstein also affirmed that pride is the source of all character faults, and that the evil dwelling in a person stems from a sense of self-importance. However the same applies to the good in a person: Humility is the foundation of all virtues and the bedrock of perfection. Whoever is endowed with humility will develop no character faults.
The gaon Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Schlesinger recounts the following story:
During the two last years of Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky’s life, thousands of people would gather in the Chazon Ish kollel in Bnei Brak for his lecture on the yahrtzeit of the Chazon Ish, Cheshvan 15. It was an especially holy time.
Towards evening, Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael (who was known as the Steipler) humbly declared: “There are many in attendance today because this class takes place once a year. Logically speaking, if it were held once a week, there wouldn’t even be ten men present to recite Kaddish afterwards.”
On Purim, and especially during the last years of his life, the Steipler welcomed a numerous and diversified group of people to his home, including children who impatiently awaited the Rav’s blessing. He once said the following:
“Cheder is closed on Purim, and therefore children gather around their mothers and disrupt them as they try to prepare the Purim meal and mishloach manot. That’s why women send their children along with their husbands to an old man who stays at home due to frailness, so they can stay there for a few hours and thus ease their burdens at home on that day.”
He Shouldn’t Complain
One day the tzaddik Rabbi Shemuel Eliyahu of Zwulen was preparing the dinner table for the night of Shabbat. Some people came and told him that a certain chassid, who was a scholar, was at that very moment in the Beit HaMidrash complaining that he was not seated at a place of honor around the table.
The Rav replied, “He shouldn’t complain. Tell him that the mezuzah, which is rich in Torah and holiness, does not get angry at being left at the door.”
You’re the Tzaddik!
While on the road to visit Rabbi Menachem Mendel in Rimanov, Rabbi Leib of Premishlan changed places with his driver so that people would not recognize him upon their entry into town. As such, Rabbi Leib could avoid the honors granted to him by his hosts. He therefore put on the driver’s hat, while the driver put on his shtreimel.
As they approached the town, they met a large group of chassidim, disciples sent by Rabbi Menachem Mendel to welcome the tzaddik.
Naturally, the disciples hastened to the driver, who was wearing a shtreimel, and they greeted him with reverence and awe. However Rabbi Naphtali of Ropshitz, who was among these disciples, immediately approached the “driver” and addressed him with sacred respect: “Welcome, Rabbeinu.”
Stunned, Rabbi Leib asked him: “How did you recognize me?” Rabbi Naphtali replied, “I noticed the humility and unpretentiousness with which you led the horse, and I understood that you’re the tzaddik!”
In the Light of the Parsha
Let the Pure Come and Learn About Purity
It is written, “Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them, ‘When a man among you brings an offering to Hashem: From animals, from the cattle or from the flock, you shall bring your offering’ ” (Vayikra 1:2).
In the Midrash our Sages say, “Why do young children begin studying with Sefer Vayikra? It is because all the offerings appear in it, and because up to that point they are pure and do not know the taste of sin. Therefore the Holy One, blessed be He, said that they should begin with the study of the offerings: Let those who are pure come and study the offerings that are pure. I will account it to them as if they had brought offerings before Me” (Tanchuma, Tzav 14). Although the Temple has been destroyed and offerings are no longer brought today, if young boys do not read about them, the world cannot endure. This teaches us that all areas of Torah are connected to these parshiot, and that it is because of them that Israel can endure in the midst of exile. In fact even today, when the Temple no longer stands and we do not bring offerings to G-d, our learning of the passages that deal with the offerings is considered as if we had brought them, and Hashem grants us His forgiveness.
Thus our Sages teach, “Whoever studies the laws of the sin-offering is as if he were offering a sin-offering, and whoever studies the laws of the guilt-offering is as if he were offering a guilt-offering” (Menachot 110a). This is why our ancestors declared that children should begin their study of Torah by learning about the offerings, in order to accustom them to the subject of the offerings from an early age, and to make them realize that when someone sins today – when we cannot bring an offering because there is no Temple – he simply has to study the section of the Torah corresponding to the required offering in order to be considered as having brought it.
Hence this week’s parsha begins with the term vayikra (“and He called”). We may break this term into vai and kra, vai having the same numerical value, including the word itself, as tov (“good”). Now there is nothing good other than the Holy One, blessed be He, as it is written: “Taste and see that Hashem is tov [good]” (Tehillim 34:9), and there is nothing good other than Torah (Berachot 5a).
As for the term kra, it has the same numerical value, including the word itself, as karev (“to approach”), which teaches us that learning Torah enables a person to approach (i.e., draw closer to) his Creator.
The term vai alludes to the fact the even if a person finds studying Torah difficult (vai) – even if he is poor and in distress, and even if he is old or sick – he must still persevere. As the Rambam states, “Every Jew has the duty to study Torah, be he rich or poor, in good health or sick, young or so old that he no longer has any strength, and even if he is so poor that he is forced to beg. Even if he has a wife and children, he must set aside time to study Torah day and night, as it is written: ‘You shall mediate on it day and night’ [Joshua 1:8]” (Hilchot Talmud Torah 1:8).
At the Source
It is written, “A male without blemish he shall offer; to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting he shall offer it for his acceptance” (Vayikra 1:3).
This expression is explained in the book Midrash Shemuel in light of a story brought by the Sages: “An ox was once being led away as an offering, but would not budge. A poor man came along with a bundle of endives in his hand. He held it out towards the ox, which ate it, sneezed, and expelled a needle. It then allowed itself to be led away as an offering” (Vayikra Rabba 3:5). (It seems that the ox did not want to be led away as an offering because of the needle that was in its throat. If it had not sneezed, it would have been treif and the offering would have been invalid.)
This is what Scripture alludes to by saying, “A male without blemish he shall offer.” If we question whether a blemish exists within the animal, the answer is: “He shall offer it for his acceptance.” In other words, if we see an animal going towards the altar willingly, it is certainly “without blemish.” Otherwise, it would not go towards the altar willingly.
It is written, “The kohen shall cause it all to go up in smoke” (Vayikra 1:9).
The Midrash states that the expression “it all” includes the bones, tendons, horns, and hooves. The saintly Rabbi Haim ben Attar expresses his surprise in his commentary Ohr HaHaim:
“If so, why did Abraham not offer his ram as a burnt-offering along with its horns? Instead, he kept the horns as shofarot: The right horn for the shofar of Mashiach, and the left horn for the giving of the Torah.”
Rabbi Yitzchak Yaakov Weiss Zatzal, the Rosh Av Beit Din of Jerusalem, answered this question in his book Minchat Yitzchak. He cites the words of the Kli Yakar, who explained why the law of the offerings requires that all parts of an animal be offered on the altar. He states that we must offer the horns because every sinner seems to possess horns with which to attack. Hence the horns of an animal must also be offered on the altar.
The Ohr HaHaim explains, however, that Abraham did indeed offer the horns on the altar. Yet since his offering did not come to atone for a sin, Divine Providence arranged things such that they fell from the altar and were not burnt as an offering.
The Same Applies to Torah
It is written, “When a person offers a meal-offering to Hashem” (Vayikra 2:1).
Here Rashi states, “Who usually offers a meal-offering? A poor man. The Holy One, blessed be He, says: ‘I account it for him as if he has offered his very soul!’ ”
In his book Torah Ve'Haim (100a), Rabbi Haim Faladji wrote that the Torah is comparable to an offering. Just as it is good and pleasant for the poor to bring the offering of the wealthy, the same applies to learning Torah: Someone who finds it very difficult to study due to pain and suffering, and yet studies all the same, is praised and glorified. Conversely, someone who fails to study Torah when he has the ability to invest his energies into it has not fulfilled his duty, just as a wealthy man who brings the offering of a poor man.
Guard Your Tongue
His Sin is Unforgiveable
Whoever goes and sits with people whom he knows are inclined to slander their friends – such a person is deemed a sinner, even if he does not support their words. In fact by doing so, he transgresses the prohibition of our Sages against listening to improper words. In principle, if he is ready to listen to their words, his sin is unforgiveable, and it will be engraved above in the Book of Remembrance.
– Chafetz Chaim