Perashat Vayikra 5779
Perashat Vayikra 5779Friday, March 15, 2019
"Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them; When a man from amongst you brings a sacrifice to Hashem, from the animals, from the cattle and from the flock should you bring your sacrifice."
The book of Vayikra deals with an esoteric realm of Judaism, the realm of korbanot, or sacrifices. The laws governing korbanot are complicated and nuanced. Interestingly enough, we are not introduced to the concept of korbanot, their lofty meaning or any of the things you should do first. We begin with the first word uttered in the entire sequence of laws, אדם.
Rashi, the classic commentator, makes a cryptic statement. He quotes the Midrash and says that the word אדם is coming to teach you the first law of a korban. (B. 1040 D.1105)
"Why does it say אדם? To teach you just as Adam did not sacrifice from that which had been stolen, for everything was his, so too you should never bring a sacrifice from something stolen."
The Torah deemed this law more important than any of the laws associated with the korban. Don't sacrifice something that isn't yours. Isn't it strange that a side point, a technical detail within the legal system governing sacrifices, should be the first concept introduced? We haven't even been told what a korban is yet!
As we dig deeper, we notice something else as well. The clue to this all-important law, namely that one cannot use a stolen animal as a sacrifice, comes to us in a strange way. Let me explain.
There are other places where the Torah prohibited doing a missvah with an object that was stolen. A classic example is with Lulab: "ולקחתם לכם, And you shall take for you", from which our Rabbis extrapolate משלכם, that the Lulab needs to have been taken from your own property and not from another's.
So why the drama here? Why don't we learn this lesson from the word מִכֶּ֛ם, from you? Why bring Adam Harishon into this? There must be more here than meets the eye.
I'd like to suggest the following idea and intertwine it with something that struck me in the commentary of the Kli Yakar (1550-1619).
The fact that Adam didn't steal when he brought his korban is fundamentally different from our own responsibility to ensure that our korban belongs to us. We are obligated to be honest and even scrupulous with our finances, careful with our words and sales pitch to ensure a gezel-free animal. Adam had no choice. He couldn't steal even if he wanted to do so. Everything was his. There simply was no one else in the world at that time to steal from! So what is the comparison?
What we are being taught here is something monumental.
A wealthy man once stood up in my father's synagogue. He wanted to share some words of wisdom with all that were gathered there. His experience, his wealth and his age all contributed to the fact that when he stood at the podium a silence fell over the room.
"I want to share with you the secret to my success."
The room leaned in, waiting expectantly for the key he had used to amass his fortunes building a veritable business empire.
"Every cent I ever made came from the simple realisation that people have it all wrong. Honesty is NOT the best policy!"
You could hear an audible gasp rise from the crowd's throats! Everyone looked to the Rabbi, to see how he would react to this bold, reactionary statement. Sacrilege, and in a synagogue, no less!
The Rabbi looked at the man, who by now knew he had everyone's attention and with a smile playing across his lips, he repeated himself,
"Honesty is not the best policy. It is the ONLY policy!"
Stealing, whether a huge ponzi scheme, avoiding taxes or even not putting the correct postage on a letter is forbidden. It is not just forbidden because we think it's a good idea, or is social policy or a smart decision. There is no option. The idea of taking something that is not yours is simply not a possibility. It should feel as if we physically can't. Exactly like Adam.
The Midrash communicates this idea specifically within the halachot of a korban, where one is attempting to come close, Karov, to Hashem. Closeness to GOD must be one's own individual way. It simply cannot be "stolen" from someone else. Adam's korban was not just monetarily his. It was, and could only be, HIS idea, his initiative, his innate will to be closer to his Master.
The power of this idea then, is this: our korban, and indeed our connection with Hashem, must be like Adam's, not like his son Hevel's. Hevel's korban was stolen. He brought a korban because his brother Kayin had brought one. It wasn't HIS. It was GREAT, but it wasn't HIS. That is the most important, primary element in the entire realm of korbanot. You simply cannot have a relationship with another if you are not yourself with them.
That is why we start the book of Vayikra with this crucial concept.
I would like to leave you with one question: If you had to have your own connection with Hashem, based on something that emanated deep from within your very soul, without any outside influences, without any desire for human approval, what would that look like?
Rabbi Shlomo Farhi
May 26 2019
Iyar 21 5779