Parshat Vayikra 5780: Being “Chosen,” Exclusivity and the “Meaning” of the Korbanot

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua, Parshat Vayikra is being sponsored anonymously dedicated in honor of Avraham Zev ben Shlomo, Sima bat Avraham and Bracha bat Shlomo. To our anonymous sponsor, many thanks for your sponsorship and for your continued kindnesses.

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Moshe Burt
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Parshat Vayikra 5780: Being “Chosen,” Exclusivity and the “Meaning” of the Korbanot

by Moshe Burt

Our Parshat HaShevua for Parshat Vayikra opens by pointing out the significance of the small “alef” in Vayikra as Hashem’s expression of love for Moshe Rabbeinu and the dialogue between them which resulted in it.

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, in his sefer “Unlocking the Torah Text”, Sefer Vayikra (pages 16-21) deals with another dimension of our Parsha in what seems to be a unique way:

Hashem opens… with a… directive to Moshe concerning voluntary korbanot [sacrifices]: “Speak to the B’nei Yisrael and say to them, ‘If a man [“V’amartah Keilokim Adam”] should bring from among you an offering to the Lord, from the domestic animal, from the cattle or from the flock shall you bring your offering.'” (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Vayikra, Perek 1, posuk 2 as rendered to English in his sefer “Unlocking the Torah Text”, Sefer Vayikra)

Why does the Torah use the word “adam” [a Hebrew term for “man”] in this posuk? The term consistently used in Torah to indicate an individual is “ish.”

Numerous authorities within the Talmud and Midrash view the term “adam” in this sentence [“If a man should bring…an offering] as halachically inclusive in nature, deliberately broadening the population base from which korbanot will be received. Not only are all… Jews (men, women, born Jews and converts) delineated as eligible participants in the Sanctuary’s sacrificial rite, but some authorities even derive the eligibility of non-Jews from this term as well. (Rabbi Goldin citing Midrash Hachaifetz Vayikra Perek 1, posuk 2, Talmud Yerushalmi Shekalim 1:4, Chizkuni, Vayikra Perek 1, posuk 2. Talmud Bavli – Nazir 62b, however, derives the inclusion of Gentiles from a different textual source – Vayikra, Perek 22, posuk 18)

…Rashi explains the Torah’s use of the word “adam” by… connect[ing] this sentence to Adam, the first man, ancestor of all mankind…. Just as the first man, Adam, by definition did not offer stolen material to Hashem, [as he alone existed in the world] and all in the world was his; so too, [Hashem commands the B’nei Yisrael] “Your korbanot should not consist of stolen goods.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Rashi, Vayikra Perek 1, posuk 2, Midrash Rabbah Vayikra 2:7)

In addition, in contrast to the Jews whose offerings must be brought to the Beit Hamikdash, “Gentiles are permitted to offer burnt offerings to Hashem anywhere in the world and it is permissible to instruct them and teach them how to sacrifice to Hashem’s name, Blessed be He.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Rambam, Mishne Torah, Hilchot Ma’aseh Korbonot 9:16)

The Torah thus repeats, at the very outset of its detailed description of korbanot, a message sounded often and clearly within the text, Hashem’s selection of the Jews as a “chosen people” does not connote exclusivity. Even after the birth of Am Yisrael [as a] nation, Hashem continues to relate to all of mankind.

….From the ancient proponents of human sacrifice to the “fundamentalists” of our day, zealots have redrawn the laws of morality to justify actions purportedly perpetrated in pursuit of specific “religious” goals.

In sharp contrast, our law shapes the interface between ritual observance and ethical behavior through the application of the legal maxim “A Mitzvah which results from the commission of a sin is simply unacceptable.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Talmud Bavli Succah 29b-30a) No amount of spiritual devotion exempts a religious practitioner from the basic laws that apply to all of mankind.

If the word “adam” halachically expands the population pool from whom korbanot are accepted, many authorities maintain that… “from among you” creates a… limitation…. How will our religious tradition balance the desire for inclusiveness with the need for realistic boundaries? Not all behaviors can be accepted within a religious community. And yet, can we completely close the door on any individual? …A question looms that will reverberate… across the ages: with regard to affiliation with the community of Jews, who is in and who is out?

The discussion begins in the Talmud: “from among you, but not from all of you”; from this phrase we learn that korbanot are not accepted from apostates.”

…Further, the Rabbis maintain that no such distinction is made in the case of Gentiles, all of whom, regardless of their beliefs, are eligible to offer sacrifices to Hashem. Counter-intuitively, the bar is set higher for Jews than it is for non-Jews.

Rabbi Goldin now provides discussion by Rabbanim regarding the Korbanot (ibid, pages 6-15):

Two separate approaches offered by the Rambam are central to the Rabbinic discussion of korbanot.

1/ In his halachic… Mishnah Torah, the Rambam categorizes korbanot as chukim, mitzvot for which no reason is given in the Torah. While one is encouraged to seek meaning in such mitzvot says the Rambam, Hashem’s true reasoning may well remain elusive. …Chukim such as korbanot emerge as a true test of our loyalty to Hashem’s will. (Rabbi Goldin citing Mishnah Torah, Hilchot Me’ila 8:8; Hilchot Temura 4:13)

2/ In his “Guide to the Perplexed,” however, the Rambam offers a vastly different, rational approach to the inclusion of korbanot in Halacha.

Many phenomena in Torah, he maintains, are based upon the principle that abrupt major change in human behavior is iimpossible. Man simply cannot journey immediately “from one extreme to the other.”

Hashem cannot expect the B’nei Yisrael, reared in idolatrous surroundings [in Mitzrayim] replete with sacrificial rite, to totally reject rituals they have come to see as necessary for communion with the Divine. He therefore commands his chosen people to sanctify the profane by adapting aspects of the prevailing sacrificial rite to His [Hashem’s] worship within the Mishkan…. The Jews’ difficult transition to their newfound faith is eased through the incorporation of a familiar ritual path. (Rabbi Goldin citing Abravanel, Introduction to Vayikra, Chapter 4.)

Note: Other authorities maintain that this Midrash [Abravanel, Introduction to Vayikra, Chapter 4] does not support the Rambam’s views, but only suggests that involvement with Torah ritual will inevitably result in abstinence from idolatrous practices. (Rabbi Goldin citing Rabbi David Zvi Hoffman, Sefer Vayikra [Jerusalem: Mossad HaRav Kook, 1972], pages 60-61)

…The Rambam’s suggestions [Rambam’s second approach]… find support in the… historical development of korbanot in the Torah. Korbanot emerge as man, of his own initiative, determines a mode of communication with the Divine. Hashem recognizes the Jews’ continuing need for… symbolic communication and allows for the retention of korbanot in His newly given law.

Many authorities defend the Rambam’s rational explanation for the existence of korbanot in Halacha. (Rabbi Goldin citing Ritva, Sefer Hazikaron, Parshat Vayikra; Abravanel, Introduction to Vayikra, Chapter 4)

Numerous other scholars, however, remain severely critical of Rambam’s approach, unwilling to categorize Torah’s extensive, detailed sacrificial rite as a concession to human frailties.

….The Ramban quotes an alternative approach… for korbanot (… a mystical approach). Korbanot are offered… in large measure as a response to man’s failure and sin. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Vayikra Perek 17, posukim 5-7) Hashem, therefore designs the steps of korbanot to correspond to the three components of human activity through which sin occurs: thought, words and deeds.

The following are… additional approaches to the concept of korbanot offered within traditional literature.

Rav Saadia Gaon maintains that the sacrificial rite enables the Jews to demonstrate the depth of their dedication to Hashem by offering of the “best of their possessions.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Emunot V’deiot 3:10)

The Ba’al Hachinuch… postulate[s] that a person’s thoughts and sentiments are shaped, in great measure, by his concrete actions. The performance of symbolic Mitzvot are thus critical to the process of attitude formation. A sinner cannot purify his heart simply through a passive confession “between himself and the wall.” Such confession requires no real effort and, therefore, has minimal effect. If, however, the individual is forced to act — if he becomes obligated in a demanding series of atoning rituals; if he must select from his flock, bring his offerings to the Mishkan and participate in a detailed sacrificial rite — he will then become acutely aware of the extent of his sin and he will avoid such failure in the future.

The Ba’al Hachinuch also suggests that the very act of offering a korban reminds man of the tenuous nature of his own superiority over the beasts of the field. Man’s distinctiveness lies in his ability to reason.

The slaughter of the animal and the consumption of its remains upon the altar [Mizbeiyach] graphically demonstrates that a “reasonless” being is valueless and ultimately destined to destruction. The depth of the supplicant’s failure and the toll of that failure upon his soul are thus underscored. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzva 95)

…The Maharal of Prague perceives the sacrificial rite, with its intimations of mortality, as a fundamental reflection of the inconsequentiality of all creatures in the face of Hashem’s greatness. Nothing exists in the world except as a result of Hashem’s kindness and munificence [noun the quality of being munificent, or showing unusual generosity]. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Gevurot Hashem 5:69)

Rav Goldin concludes (ibid, pages 19, 21):

As the sacrificial laws… unfold in sefer Vayikra, the Midrash sees Hashem reminding the B’nei Yisrael: Your religious worship must always be observed within a moral framework. Under no circumstances will actions in My name relieve you from universal ethical responsibilities toward your fellow man.

…The Rabbis declare, only those apostates whose rebellion strikes to the basic core of Jews’ belief are excluded. The acceptance of these individuals would, apparently, connote validation of of their convictions and thus present too great a threat to the community. The door, however, remains open to others, whose rebellion is less pervasive, in the hope that they will return to normative…[observance]. (Rabbi Goldin citing Talmud Bavli Eruvin 69b)

At the dawn of our nation’s history, the struggle to define acceptable communal boundaries is joined — a struggle that rages to this very day.

This author wonders, how to delineate apostasy (noun, plural; a total desertion of or departure from one’s religion, principles, party, cause, etc.) as we discuss our communal halachic boundaries against the background of raging fractionalization in Israel resulting from politicization of issues regarding religion vs state in the public sphere: such as potential for mass public desecration of Shabbos, civil marriage vs rabbinical oversight, the growth of Jews for “J”, intermarriage, same-genderism, abortion, etc. — seemingly attacks on the very cores of our belief. And we are appalled as we watch our core beliefs ravaged throughout the world by the nations — rising anti-semitism, banning of Kosher slaughter in Europe, promotion of full-term abortion legislation, aka “infanticide” in the United States which passed into law in the states of New York and Virginia, with legislation pending in other states and more.

May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them and that the thrice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. May our dear brother Jonathan Pollard be liberated and truly free, as Naama Issachar is now free and home — which can only occur when Jonathan is home in Israel and carrying for his ill wife Esther Yocheved bat Rayzl Bracha, and that the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of five and a half years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Chodesh Tov and Good Shabbos!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.