Vayikra - The World Of Vayikra
By Rabbi Aron Tendler
Experience and contrast are the basis for wisdom and understanding. It is
our own experiences that allow us to understand the experiences of others.
Once we understand what others have experienced we can empathize with them
and offer advice. For the most part, that is what we call wisdom.
It is also the meaning of the Golden Rule, "Love your neighbor as
yourself." First you must love yourself before you can love someone else.
First you must understand and appreciate the circumstances and experiences
of your own life before you can understand and appreciate the circumstances
and experiences of someone else's life.
Imagine trying to appreciate the breath-taking beauty of the Grand Canyon
or the majestic grandeur of the Rockies without the benefit of having
actually seen them. No matter how descriptive the actual or verbal picture
might be, it cannot compare to the experience of seeing them with your own
The Talmud in Shabbos presents the Golden Rule somewhat differently than
commonly quoted. Hillel the Elder did not say, "Love your neighbor as
yourself." The actual quote was, "That which is hateful to you do not do to
your friend." The Talmud's approach is pragmatic rather than theoretical.
First and foremost, love means never do to someone what you do not want
done to yourself. We each know the pain of having been insulted. We have
each experienced the indignity of being "the butt" to someone else's joke.
We can each remember what it means to be lonely or ignored. We have all
been scarred by not having been properly thanked or appreciated. It did not
feel good and it does not feel good. Therefore, we should not do the same
to anyone else. Do not insult anyone else. Do not make fun of anyone else.
Do not ignore or show indifference to anyone else. Always say thank you and
express appreciation for what others do for you. That is the Golden Rule.
It starts with you and extends outward to embrace others. That is the
practical meaning of love.
This week's Parsha begins the compendium of sacrificial laws with the
statement, "An individual who brings near and offeringâ€¦" (1:2) Rashi
references the Medresh that explains the seemingly unnecessary usage of the
word "Adam - an individual." Grammatically speaking, the Torah could have
simply written, "When you bring near an offeringâ€¦" Why does the Torah
insert the word "Adam - an individual?"
The Medresh explains that it refers to Adam, the first human. "Just as Adam
did not bring his sacrifice from anything stolen because the entire world
belonged to him, so too you should not bring your Korbanos - sacrifices
from anything stolen."
An offering on the Mizbeach - alter should reflect the subjugation of its
owner to G-d. Respecting the personal rights and properties of others is
foremost among all social behaviors in demonstrating personal subjugation
to G-d. It acknowledges that all that we are and all that we have is
ultimately from G-d. Therefore, what I have is mine because G-d wanted it
to be so, and what you have is yours because G-d wanted it to be so. To
steal is to deny G-d's primacy and intent in this world.
Why was it necessary for G-d to associate Adam, the first human with this
concept? Logic alone dictates that offering a stolen sacrifice to G-d is
antithetical to the concept of Korbanos.
Sefer Bereshis established separation as natural to G-d's design of the
universe. Therefore, it is natural that G-d separated the Jews from the
rest of the world. Sefer Shemos explained that G-d separated the Jew from
the rest of the world to give them the Torah and appoint them as a kingdom
of priests and a holy nation. As priests, the Jews are responsible to
minister to the rest of the nations and teach them, by example, about G-d.
It is Sefer Vayikra that details how the Jews are supposed to behave so
that their lives reflect sanctity and divine intent. Therefore, on a very
basic level, it makes perfect sense that G-d would start Vayikra with an
emphasis on the most fundamental expression of G-d's involvement in society
- the prohibition against stealing when bringing a Korban.
On a deeper level, Rav Dessler offers an insight into the Torah's reference
of Adam-the first human. Adam, because he was the first human, was unique
in all of history. Except for the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil,
everything else in the world was available for his use. He could not steal
even if he had wanted to. There was nothing to steal because it was all
his. Therefore, Adam did not have the inclination for taking what wasn't
his. In the depths and recesses of his heart he did not harbor any feelings
of coveting or jealousy. Covet what? Be jealous of whom?
The experience of bringing a Korban to the Mizbeach was to inspire us to
banish from our hearts and minds any inclination of coveting or
jealousy. The total subjugation of our being at the time of the offering
was to reflect, "with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our
Rav Dessler concludes that the physical world may defy our attempts at
banishing all thoughts and feelings of coveting and jealousy because it is
a physical world that is shared by us all. However, the spiritual world is
unique to each of us. In the world of spirituality, sanctity, and
individual purpose no one can take what is ours from us and we cannot take
from others what is theirs. In the spiritual realm we are like Adam, the
Let us extend Rav Dessler's insight a little further. It is incumbent upon
each of us to see beyond the physical presentation of our humanness and
recognize G-d's intent. G-d does not care for the physical and the
material. G-d's goal is the sanctification of the physical in pursuit of
spirituality. To the extent that we appreciate the uniqueness of our own
spiritual potential and accomplishments will be the extent that we respect
and appreciate the sanctity of others. To the extent that we respect and
appreciate all others is the extent that we acknowledge G-d's primacy in
Are you important? Are you more important than anyone else? Are you more
important or less important than your spouse or children? Does G-d consider
you to be more important or less important than anyone else?
It makes sense to say that the degree to which you consider anyone else
important will be in direct proportion to the degree that you consider
yourself important. How else could you understand or appreciate the meaning
of importance? It must start with you before it can be extended to anyone
The difference between belief in creationism and belief in evolution is
purpose. Was the universe created with intent and purpose or was it a
cosmic mistake? If you believe in G-d the Creator then you believe that the
universe is part of a divine plan. If you do not believe in G-d the Creator
then the universe has no purpose beyond that which you want or do.
G-d is often portrayed in our prayers as an artist who intentionally
fashioned the universe. The description certainly suggests intent and
purpose, so let us examine it a little more closely.
When painting a portrait the artist must plan two fundamental dimensions;
the actual figure to be painted and the background that will frame the
figure. Once the painting is completed, ask the artist which dimension is
more important, the figure or the background? The artist must answer that
both are equally important; one without the other would compromise the
original intent of the portrait and its final production.
Which is more important in a car, the engine or the wheels? We understand
that both are equally important if the vehicle is to accomplish its purpose
of conveying us from place to place. One with out the other renders the car
Who is more significant in the universe, you or me? Who is more important
to G-d, you or me? If G-d is the artist Who created the universe with
intent and purpose then I am as essential to the final production as
anything and everything else in the universe. In contrast to myself I must
extend my own sense of significance to everyone else. They too were
intentionally and purposefully created by G-d and included in the universe.
They too must be as significant as I am and as important as the rest of
The Golden Rule should be applied to all our relationships: family,
friends, business, communal, country, and the environment. G-d created each
of them; therefore, they are as important to G-d as we are. Imagine a world
of respect, encouragement, and appreciation. Imagine a world without waste,
abuse, pain, indifference, and loneliness. Imagine a world that begins with
us and embraces the entire universe. That is the world of Vayikra.
Copyright © 2002 by Rabbi Aron Tendler
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation,
Valley Village, CA.