This weeks parsha of Vayikra begins the Sefer of Vayikra. The Ramban explains the connection between Vayikra and the previous Sefer of Shemos. Shemos, the sefer of exile and redemption, concluded with the Shechinah, the heavenly presence filling the Mishkan. This sefer instructs us about the karbonos (sacrifices) and the spiritual maintenance of the Mishkan. That which we need to do in order to keep the Shechinah there – the daily service and the proper atonement for the eventuality of our errors.
For most people with a western upbringing, the karbonos are an issue that is difficult to relate to. For many they bring back bad memories of late night horror movies. We will try to bring about an understanding of this parsha. Let us first point out that the Mishkan was the holiest place on earth. The ‘flashpoint’ of the heavens and the earth, the spiritual and the physical. We weren’t commanded to keep shabbos or don tefilin there. We were commanded to offer sacrifices there. Let’s try to understand this.
We are a composite of two separate beings- a physical one and a spiritual one. During the duration of our earthly existence, these two strange bedfellows are joined together. Once a person’s ‘lifetime’ ends, each returns to the source from which it came. The physical returns to the earth to await the ultimate reunion, t’chiyas hameisim, and the spiritual returns to its realm, existing in an interim state of closeness to Hashem, until that time of t’chiyas hameisim. During the lifetime here, each pulls in its direction. Ultimately, who we are is determined by our decision(s) of which direction we will follow.
The Ramban (1:9) explains that our actions are comprised of three elements. Thought, speech and action. Hashem commanded us to bring a sacrifice and place our hands on its head- corresponding to action; verbally confess our sins- corresponding to speech; and then to burn the different parts of the animal on the alter. Those internal organs which are the sites of thought and desire correspond to the element of thought. The arms and legs- the agents who carry out our actions. The blood, the nefesh, is sprinkled on the alter.
The person must realize that, in reality, it is he who should be on the alter. He has sinned against his Creator with his body and soul. Simply offering an animal as a sacrifice is missing the whole point. The incredible state of teshuva that a person feels while witnessing this sacrifice and picturing himself in place of the animal, brings him (and the animal) to a totally different state of spirituality.
In this Mishkan, in the presence of the Shechinah, a person has the ability to recognize that it was this physical pull that brought him to the state of sin. It was that lack of focus, that pull towards the illusion, that led to his indiscretion. He enters the Mishkan. He is enveloped by its holiness. He hears the Levites singing beautiful songs and playing uplifting music. He offers the sacrifice, ridding himself of the physicality and its enticements. He resolves that the direction of his life will be pointed upward.
“Adom ki yakriv mikem korbon laHashem (1:2).” A man, when he sacrifices from you a korbon to Hashem. Why is the term Adom used here? Rashi explains that just as Adom Harishon only brought that which was his, so too we can’t bring a korbon from stolen property.
The Nefesh HaChaim also stresses the connection of Adom. Look how one single act of Adom changed the whole world and the course of mankind! Realize the potency of your actions! Even if we don’t see the results of our decisions and actions, recognize that you too are Adom! Decide to go about correcting the state of mind which led to that choice of action… bring a korbon.
The Slonimer Rebbe shlit”a explains that this is what is meant by the word “mikem“, from you. Don’t simply bring an animal! The sacrifice must be mikem, from you! Sacrifice yourself! Sacrifice those desires, those mindsets, those outlooks which are associated with and emanate from the ‘animal’ self. If the korbon is mikem, then and only then is it a “korbon laHashem“; a true means of drawing close (the root of the word korbon is karov, meaning close) to Hashem.
This week we will also read Parshas Zachor. “Zechor es ashas asah lecha Amalek” (Devarim 25:17-18) – remember what Amalek did to you. What is the essence of Amalek and what must we destroy?
The Rambam writes that when Bnei Yisroel are in a state of tzar, difficulty, we are obligated to fast and call out to Hashem. This will cause the situation to improve. If we will attribute these difficulties to chance coincidental happenings, this will cause us to cling to our ways and subsequently have more calamities directed toward us.
The Ohr Gedalyahu explains that Hashem arranged this world with the appearance of a natural order. One can look at this world and conclude that it is comprised of natural consequences with a fair share of coincidences mixed in. However, one has the ability to keenly perceive that the hand of Hashem is, in fact, pulling all of the strings.
When one recognizes that nothing is haphazard, rather every event is hashgacha pratis, Divine personal supervision and intervention, then he plugs into that hanhagah (means of Hashem dealing with us) and every event of his life is perfectly tailored for his ‘growth needs’. If, however, a person curses his rotten luck when things don’t go his way, wondering why he’s been so unjustly wronged, if he believes in a natural running of this world, then he will be placed under the hanhagah of chance!!!
The power and essence of Amalek was this ability to create this illusion of chance coincidental happenings in this world. “Asher karcha baderech“, karcha comes from the root of ‘mikreh‘, chance happening. They attacked us with this ideology of the worlds events. They tried to infuse us with this outlook of mikreh!
When Moshe’s hands were uplifted, we were victorious; when his hands were down, we would lose the battle. The Mishnah in Rosh Hashana asks: “Did the hand of Moshe win or lose the battles”? Rather, the Mishnah explains, “when Bnei Yisroel looked up toward the heavens, and subjugated our hearts to our Father, they were victorious. If not, then they fell”.
The battle wasn’t dependent on the hands of Moshe but rather on the hearts of Bnei Yisroel. The battle against of Amalek is to raise ourselves out of this “world of illusion”, out of this outlook of chance happenings. Instead, we must connect ourselves to this hanhagah of Hashem’s delicate and personal care and supervision. When we looked toward heavens and realized that all is coming from Him, we were victorious. If not, we were under the domain of nature, of chance, we were under the domain of Amalek- they were being victorious.
We tested Hashem asking if He was really amongst us or not. That brought Amalek against us. The Zohar asks if we were indeed so foolish to question if Hashem was with us or not! We witnessed the plagues and the splitting of the sea. We were surrounded by the Clouds of Glory which flattened mountains, filled valleys, washed our clothes and even delivered perfume to the women. What was our doubt?!
The Ohr Gedalyahu explains that we clearly knew of Hashem’s miracles. We had no doubts that Hashem would ‘hit the pause button’ on nature and perform miracles for us. We questioned if Hashem was with us or not. When all seems to be natural, is it really natural is it supernatural disguised as the natural? When open miracles aren’t being performed, has that hanhagah of the miraculous been halted, or is it continuing as it was before, but now under the appearance of chance happenings? That was the doubt of Bnei Yisroel. They had entered the lair of Amalek and were therefore attacked by them.
In Megilas Esther, the name of Hashem is not mentioned. It was a series of ‘natural’ events that, when put together, became incredibly clear that they were being divinely guided. It was this realization which enabled us to defeat Haman, the grandson of Agag, the king of Amalek. The recognition that all that came our way was being sent by Hashem. Nothing was haphazard- every last detail was hashgacha pratis, Divine personal supervision.
We wear costumes and masks on Purim. The immediate reaction when seeing a mask is to wonder what is behind. We must realize that this whole world is nothing but a mask. When living our days and viewing the events sent our way, we must always be looking and realizing Who is behind the mask. Not to be like the dog that grapples with the stick thrown his way, while ignoring the thrower!
May we learn from the karbonos what ‘sacrifices’ need to be made in life. Learning from Purim to look more deeply into the world and into ourselves, realizing that what seems to be a loss is often a gain and what seems to be a gain is often a loss. To overcome the Amalek that has become such an inherent part of the way that we view the world, preparing the way for our ultimate victory, and the ‘unmasking’ of the ultimate redemption.
Chazak, chazak venischazek!
Copyright © 1997 by Rabbi Yisroel Ciner and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author teaches at Neveh Zion in Telzstone (near Yerushalayim).