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 faces.
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. Kamenetzky
Dedicated in honor of the Bar mitzvah of Noach Lerman
Copyright © 1999 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Associate Dean of the Yeshiva of South Shore.