Humility As Sacrifice

The passage that states, “Vayikra [And He called] to Moses … When a man among you brings an offering to the L-RD” (Leviticus 1:1-2) contains several difficulties:

1. We know that the commentators have pondered the meaning of the small letter aleph in the word vayikra. Why did Moses use a small aleph? Their answer is that he did so because of his great modesty, which the Torah testifies to by stating: “Now the man Moses was exceedingly humble, more than any person on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3). Since it is difficult to understand how Moses’ modesty could allow him to write such a passage, we must explain that G-d obliged him to write it (Yalkut Shimoni 839). Yet in that case, why didn’t G-d also oblige him to use a normal-sized aleph in the word vayikra, thus ignoring his desire to use a small one?

2. We must also ponder the connection that exists between the end of Pasha Pekudei and the beginning of Pasha Vayikra, as well as why the latter begins with the mitzvah of offerings.

3. The phrase “When a man among you brings an offering to the L-RD” needs to be clarified. Rashi explains that the word adam (man) calls to mind the first man (Adam), whose offering could in no way have been stolen. We are thus enjoined to refrain from offering anything that does not belong to us, for Hashem detests a burnt offering that stems from robbery (Isaiah 61:8). Yet in that case, it is difficult to understand why the Sages did not draw this lesson from Cain and Abel, who both offered a sacrifice to G-d, as it is written: “Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and from their choicest” (Genesis 4:4). They obviously did not offer products stemming from robbery, since the whole world belonged to them and they had divided it (Bereshith Rabba 22:16). It would have been more logical to draw the aforementioned lesson from here, for there is no verse that attests to Adam having offered a sacrifice. There is only a Midrash that describes Adam’s offering of a bull on the altar (Vayikra Rabba 2:8). Why then did the Sages try to find a proof with Adam rather than with Cain and Abel, given that Scripture explicitly states that they offered a sacrifice?

4. We also need to understand what could lead a person to offer a sacrifice that is the product of robbery, since he is only offering it because he regrets his sins and seeks to atone for them. By bringing a stolen sacrifice, he seriously aggravates his situation.

We will attempt to clarify these points by first citing the Ramban on the meaning of sacrifices in general. In his commentary to Leviticus, the Ramban writes: “All these acts [pertaining to a sacrifice] are performed in order that when they are done, a person should realize that he has sinned against his G-d with his body and his soul, and that his blood should really be spilled and his body burned, were it not for the loving-kindness of the Creator, Who took from him a substitute and a ransom, namely this offering, so that its blood should be in place of his blood, its life in place of his life” (Ramban on Leviticus 1:9). This means that when a man sees an animal being slaughtered, carved up, and its blood spread upon the altar, he should tell himself that all this should have been done to him because of his sins, and that G-d in His mercy accepts an animal in his place. These thoughts should bring about his complete and wholehearted repentance.

Actually, a man who sins does so because of pride, since it would impossible for him to sin if he recognized his true place. The Talmud states, “A man only sins if a spirit of folly seizes him” (Sotah 3). Thus when he offers a sacrifice and sees everything the Kohanim must do to the animal, he repents and submits himself to G-d.

Consequently, when a man is humble and performs the mitzvot without any boastful thoughts, Scripture considers him to be continuously offering his soul to G-d. This is the meaning of the expression, “When a man among you [mikem: Literally ‘of you’] brings an offering to the L-RD.” A man should arrive at a spiritual level whereby all his good deeds are done solely for the glory of G-d – without any ulterior motives – through submission. Thus a man who is tired because he did not sleep at night – who only slept a little in the morning – yet gathers all his strength to serve his Creator when he realizes that the time has arrived for reciting the morning Shema or morning prayers, such a man has offered himself entirely to G-d. The same goes for one who has fasted the entire day, since the loss of blood and fat resulting from his fast is considered as a sacrifice. In addition, the Sages have said that whoever manages to conquer his evil inclination is considered to have offered G-d a sacrifice. Such a person in fact offers himself entirely, for man’s evil inclination strengthens itself more each day and tries to kill him (Sukkah 52a), as it is written: “The wicked one watches for the righteous and seeks to kill him” (Psalms 37:32). When someone devotes all his energies to conquering it, at that point it is considered as if he had simultaneously sacrificed himself and his evil inclination to G-d. This is the meaning of the expression, “When a man among you [mikem] brings an offering to the L-RD.” If a man offers himself (mikem) as a sacrifice – himself along with his evil inclination (which is also part of the idea of mikem, since it is constantly within a man, well-established and hidden in his heart [Sukkah 52a]) – this represents a superior offering.

From everything that we have said, it follows that only a person who submits himself to G-d and behaves humbly is considered as having offered himself along with his evil inclination as a sacrifice. The actions of such an individual have the value of an offering, and this principle – that humility itself is considered as a sacrifice – remains valid in our day; and not only humility, but also prayer (Berachot 26b). Since the main element in repentance is confession (Rambam, Hilchot Teshuvah 81), admitting ours sins when praying to G-d leads to the submission of all the Creator’s worlds and protects us from all sins.

If everything that we have said up to this point is accurate, the issues we raised at the beginning will now be perfectly clear.

We are familiar with the teaching that states, “Man is lead by the way that he himself wants to take” (Makot 10b), which is illustrated by the passage: “Concerning scorners, He scorns them; but to the humble He gives favor” (Proverbs 3:34). For good or for evil, Divine Providence helps a man to follow the path that he desires. If a man yearns to constantly submit himself to G-d – to behave in accordance with the verse that states, “I have set the L-RD before me always” (Psalms 16:8), and to conduct himself humbly, like a servant before his master – Providence helps him to fulfill this yearning and he encounters no obstacles in his path. It is written at the end of Parsha Pekudei, “Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting, for the cloud rested upon it, and the glory of the L-RD filled the Sanctuary” (Exodus 40:35). He could only enter when Hashem called him (which answers our second question). It is plainly obvious that all the Children of Israel watched him up to the very point that he entered the tent to speak to G-d (ibid. 31:8), the result being that Moses garnered great honor at that point. He believed that Hashem spoke with him alone, to the exclusion of all other people, despite the extremely lofty spiritual level of the Children of Israel in the desert (they are called Dor Deah, a generation that conducts itself completely in accordance with its knowledge of G-d [Vayikra Rabba 9:1]). It is possible that in Moses’ immense humility, his heart broke within him, like a servant who yields to his master, and instead of writing Vayeker (“And He happened upon”), he wrote Vayikra (“And He called”). The former is the same term that the Torah uses concerning Balaam: Vayeker E-l Bilam (“And G-d happened upon Balaam” – Numbers 23:4). G-d appeared to Balaam at a moment of impurity and “by chance,” and Moses believed that G-d appeared to him also by chance, without this indicating his special choosing (see Rashi on this verse). Yet G-d did not go along with Moses’ reasoning, for it is not proper to make people believe that the leader of the Children of Israel received prophesy solely “by chance.” Such a demonstration of humility would have harmed the honor of the entire people.

Nevertheless, since Moses constantly behaved with humility and submissiveness (“Now the man Moses was exceedingly humble” – Numbers 12:3), he in fact wrote Vayikra (“And He called”). However Moses used a small aleph to underline that even though G-d demonstrated His favor by appearing to him (Torat Kohanim 1:2-3), he still did not feel worthy of this honor. Instead, Moses would have preferred for all the Children of Israel to hear everything that G-d said, since all of them were worthy. The small aleph signifies that every Jew, even if he is not great, can merit hearing Hashem’s voice. This is what is stated by the verse: “Was it only to Moses that the L-RD spoke? Did He not speak to us as well?” (Numbers 12:2) – G-d can speak to anyone! Hashem replied that this is true, and in his humility Moses understood this perfectly well. Therefore since G-d leads a man in the way that he wants to go, He allowed Moses to use a small aleph. Proof of this is that even when G-d told him to write, “Now the man Moses was exceedingly humble,” He agreed to let him omit the letter yud in the word anav (“humble”), which is what Moses desired because of his self-effacement. Furthermore, Moses wrote “the man Moses” instead of simply “Moses” so that we should be unaware that he was speaking of himself, and in order to make us believe that he was speaking of someone else called Moses. All this stemmed from Moses’ extreme modesty, aware as he was that G-d could speak to any Jew.

We now fully understand why Parsha Vayikra begins with the subject of sacrifices. It was in order to show the Children of Israel that in being submissive to G-d, a person resembles one who offers himself as a sacrifice. In addition, watching an animal being slaughtered brings about humility, which in turn encourages a person to sacrifice himself – himself and his evil inclination – to Hashem in an act of absolute devotion and self-effacement.

Having said all this, we now understand why Rashi wrote that we should not bring a sacrifice that stems from robbery. We asked if one could conceive of bringing the product of robbery as an atonement sacrifice without making matters worse in the process. According to what we have seen, however, it is clear that when a man comes to the Temple with his sacrifice, he should do so in a spirit of submissiveness. He should prepare himself to repent in light of everything that occurs to the animal being slaughtered. Prayer, which stands in place of sacrifice (Berachot 26b), demands preparation. This was understood by men of earlier generations, who would spend an hour preparing themselves before prayer in order that it be favorably accepted (ibid. 30b). Similarly, in the time of the Temple it was necessary to prepare oneself before offering a sacrifice so that it could be favorably accepted, and the person who neglected this step seized and stole, as it were, the favorable view that Heaven could have of him. In such a case his sacrifice resembles the product of robbery, for by not coming to the Temple wholeheartedly, nothing in him would break when his sacrifice was being offered, this being so detrimental that he might stumble from one sin to the next. This could occur because he lacked the preparation that enabled him to repent beforehand so that his sacrifice would be pleasing to Hashem.

This is what the Torah alludes to by saying, “When a man among you brings an offering to the L-RD,” namely that he should not bring the product of robbery, which means that he should prepare himself beforehand and repent of his sins. This fully explains why Rashi finds his proof with Adam, who did not bring a product of robbery, even though we do not find any written evidence that he offered a sacrifice. Actually, the first man did not need to bring a sacrifice. When he sinned and was driven out of the Garden of Eden (Sanhedrin 38b), it was actually himself that he offered to G-d in an act of repentance, accompanied by extreme submissiveness on his part, this taking place on Shabbat (Bereshith Rabba 22:28). Adam then recited: “A psalm, a song for the Sabbath day” (Psalms 92:1) and confessed his sin. He even separated himself from his wife for 130 years (Eruvin 18b). He therefore did not need to offer a sacrifice, for he had found in himself the path of repentance, and he could not have brought anything that stemmed from robbery because everything in the world belonged to him (which means that his “sacrifice” carried no element of “robbery” since it contained humility and was carefully prepared). He yielded to Hashem without resorting to offering a sacrifice because he had accomplished in his own person the idea expressed by: “When a man among you [mikem: ‘of you’] brings an offering to the L-RD.”

Every man should thus learn on his own to be humble and to take note of his infinite tininess before Hashem, for humility and repentance stand in place of sacrifice, and throughthem it is as if a person offers his very life.


How Far Should Self-sacrifice Go in the Service of G d?
Book of Vayikra Index
Sacrificing Selfishness Through Humility Before Hashem


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