Parshat Vayikra 5781: Does Being “Chosen” Denote Exclusivity?

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua — Parshat Vayikra is being sponsored by Benyamin and Tracy Skriloff of Ramat Beit Shemesh dedicated for a Refuah Shleima for Kol Klal Yisrael. To Mishpochat Skriloff, many thanks for your sponsorship, and your continued kindnesses.

You can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or commemorate a Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring a Parshat HaShevua.

Please forward to your relatives and friends and encourage them to sponsor a Parshat HaShevua. And please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.

Best Regards,

Moshe Burt
skype: mark.burt3

Parshat Vayikra 5781: Does Being “Chosen” Denote Exclusivity?

by Moshe Burt

R’ Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, z’l in the new Hirsch Chumash (published by Feldheim in 2005 and translated to English by Rabbi Daniel Haberman) renders translation of our Parsha’s opening posuk:

“And He called to Moshe, and Hashem spoke to him from the Tent of Appointed Meeting [Mei-Ohel Mo’ed], saying:” (Hirsch Chumash renders to English, Sefer Vayikra, page 1, Perek 1, posuk 1)

Rebbetzin Shira Smiles, [a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel] cites in her sefer “Torah Tapestries,” (Sefer Vayikra page 5) both Rashi and Rabbi Shimshon Dovid Pincus regarding calling one’s name as background for Hashem’s expression of “Vayikra” — Hashem’s gentle, loving calls to Moshe for private meetings:

The opening phrase “vayikra el Moshe” teaches us that Hashem called to Moshe by his name. Rashi explains that the alef at the end of the word “vayikra” comes to emphasize how Hashem spoke lovingly to Moshe….

Rabbi Shimshon Dovid Pincus elaborates on the idea that calling someone by name is an expression of love…

The giving of a name does not stem from a general parental love. Rather, it is an expression of personal, individual love. Each child in a family is unique and is granted a specific name, exclusive to him. Every son or daughter is individually loved for the distinctive qualities he or she embodies.

We are told how Hashem, Kav’yochal, would call gently, affectionately “Moshe, Moshe” in a voice for Moshe Rabbeinu’s ears only and Moshe would respond “Here I am.” (Rashi on Sefer Vayikra, Perek 1, posuk 1 — Metsuda Linear Chumash & Rashi with footnotes)

This brings us to a point that it seems Hashem makes in the very first posuk of Sefer Vayikra and the lessons to be learned, acquired and applied in our times. Does Hashem’s gentle, affectionate call to Moshe stand as a model for being “chosen” or the exclusivity of the Jews? In short, does being “chosen” denote exclusivity?

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, in his sefer “Unlocking the Torah Text”, Sefer Vayikra (pages 16-21), presents Hashem’s directive to Moshe, followed by a question and discussion regarding the directive which follows the dialogue resulting in the Torah’s presentation of the small Alef opening our Parsha:

Hashem opens… with a… directive to Moshe concerning voluntary korbonot [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 korbonot 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 korbonot 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 korbonot, 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 korbonot 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 korbonot 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):

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 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 continues to wonder 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 collective frustration caused by corona pandemic-based lockdowns, isolations and resulting “special rules” and fines. Related to this was a recent adage on facebook which basically says: Emergency rules eventually lead to causing emergencies to make rules which, in turn seems political apostasy.

Further, 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. — are 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 parts of Europe, promotion of full-term abortion legislation, aka “infanticide” in the United States, which seem supported to a large degree by secular American Jews, and which passed into law in the states of New York and Virginia, with legislation pending in other states and much, much 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. Baruch Hashem that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard is now free of his parole and restrictions and that he and his ill wife Esther Yocheved bat Rayzl Bracha are finally home in Eretz Yisrael. May 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. And may we soon and finally see the total end to the Communist Chinese corona virus pandemic and all like viruses. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nei 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.