Volume 5 Issue 24
by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
The next few portions teach us the laws of sacrifices. Comprehending their
meaning and symbolism is even more difficult then proficiency in the
essence of their complex laws and details. Obviously, decrees that have
not been observed since the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash nearly 2,000
years ago are difficult to comprehend. The offerings of animals, flour and
oil mixtures, birds, and spices upon an altar are almost forbidding to the
psyche of a twentieth-century thinker.
In fact, every year I get responses to these weeks' portions from prominent
secular business people questioning the reason of sacrifice. Homiletic
faxes and internet drashas are not the forum to expound these mysteries.
Tomes have been written by the greatest thinkers in Judaism to rationalize
the loftiness of Omnipotent directives to mortal minds.
Yet, despite our inability to fully comprehend, we must still realize that
the absolution of sin was not complete without offering some corporal item
to Hashem, through His kohanim (priests), in place of the mortal who should
have been taken instead.
The opening words of the Book of VaYikra, the Toras Kohanim, has Moshe
command the nation, "When an Adam - a man -- from among you brings an
offering to Hashem" (Leviticus 1:2). The Torah then proceeds with the
hows, the whens, the wheres, and the whos of the complexities of the
korbonos (sacrifices). The opening verse receives as much scrutiny as the
ensuing intricacies. The commentaries extrapolate upon every syllable.
"When an Adam from among you brings an offering to Hashem." In this verse
the word used for man is not the normally used Ish, but rather Adam -
surely a reference to that solitary, lonely being who once dwelled in the
Garden of Eden. The words "from among you" also raise question. Isn't
every individual "from among you?" Why doesn't the Torah begin its
prefacing remarks, "when one offers a sacrifice"? Why Adam? Why "among you"?
The Rabbi was preaching to a packed crowd. The mood was somber and tense
as he expounded on the gravity of sin. He exhorted the massed to repent -
to do teshuva - and to come back to the faith and laws of their Creator.
Then he added the clincher. He was reluctant to use the power of those
words, but he knew that they would stir his audience.
"Does everybody in this community know what is going to happen to them?"
He asked. "Everyone in this community is going to die!"
Everyone in the audience was aghast with fear. The somberness of the
moment was captured in the deep creases that suddenly formed upon their
Except for one elderly gentleman who sat in the second row directly in
front of the rabbi. He had a broad smile on his face. In fact, he was
chuckling. The rabbi was disturbed. Perhaps the old timer did not get the
point. In even louder tones the rabbi implored, "It is time to repent!"
Then he added, this time with increased fervor, "Did you hear me? Everyone
in this community is going to die!"
The man's smile broadened. He seemed numb to the countenance of his fellow
listeners - the rabbi's words simply had no effect on him.
The rabbi stared directly at him and with a passion in his voice, he asked
"What's the matter with you?
Don't you realize that everyone in this community is going to die?"
The old man stared back, his smile broader than ever. "Heh Heh! He
chuckled. It's alright rabbi, I'm not from this community!"
The Torah tells us the secret of sacrifices way before it details the
actual offering. When an Adam will sacrifice from among you: There are no
islands, and there are no individuals. Every sacrifice comes "from among
you." The juxtaposition of the contrasting words - Adam - the sole creation
from whom humanity descended -- and the words MiChem - from among you --
the hoards of humanity that form Klall Yisrael -- are forever inseparable.
Every action represents community and influences it as well.
Everybody, every action, whether an act of benevolence, charity or
sacrifice, ripples a community.
The Torah preludes the laws and details of the individual that offers upon
the altar of the Almighty with the words - Adam from amongst you. No Adam
emerges from emptiness. No action is performed in solitude. For the Adams
of today live not as the sole occupants of an empty Garden of Eden. They
are clearly part of the greater community, and everything they do comes
from, and affects those, who are among you. Good Shabbos(c)1999 Rabbi M.
Dedicated in honor of the Bar mitzvah of Noach Lerman
Copyright © 1999 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
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The author is the Associate Dean of the
Yeshiva of South Shore.
Drasha is the e-mail edition of FaxHomily, a weekly torah facsimile on the weekly portion
which is sponsored by The Henry and Myrtle Hirsch Foundation