Parashas Vayikra – Act Speedily with the Poor This week's sedra sees us start the book of Vayikra. Now that the Mishkan is complete (in the previous Parashas of Vayakhel and Pekudei), the Torah gives over the rules regarding the laws of the Temple service and other laws relating to the Kohanim and their responsibilities. The opening sedras of the book of Vayikra deal almost exclusively with animal 'korbanos', a word which is usually translated as either sacrifices or offerings, but due to the English language not always translating the Hebrew so accurately, these translations do not really give us a decent idea of what a korban is and therefore they limit it's concept. I have a particular gripe when it is translated as a 'sacrifice' as this congers up images of some tribe in the jungle and also implies that the person bringing it is expected to deprive himself of something valuable... problem with this translation is that fortunately enough, G-d does not derive pleasure from our anguish or deprivation and we are also not involved in strange jungle ceremonies (unless maybe you are part of the reform movement). The word 'offering' is therefore more positive and closer to the mark, but it too falls short of the Hebrew- קרבן/korban. The root of the word korban is קרב/karov which means 'to come near' or 'close'. The person bringing an offering comes closer to G-d, he is said to elevate his spiritual level through the korban; this is therefore the true meaning of the word and the significance of the act. For us modern men (and women), who haven't had the Temple for over nineteen centuries, the notion of animal offerings seems bizarre, even primitive. What we need to understand however is that this was a huge opportunity to come closer to Hashem in the Mishkan which provided a tangible recognition of G-d's presence resting upon these acts... the offerings were said to have been consumed by a miraculous fire which descended from Heaven, and this barely scratches the surface of the vast array of open miracles which were said to have occurred daily in the Beis HaMikdash. Whenever the Torah speaks of the offerings, it uses the four-letter name of G-d that signifies his mercy, with this in mind we learn that the offerings were the means by which Hashem gave us the ability to rejuvenate ourselves, they provided us the means to bring elevation and purity into our lives.

The sedra starts with the words... 'ויקרא אל משה'/He (Hashem) called to Moshe [1:1]. Ramban brings down that we learn from the use of the word 'ויקרא/called', that Moshe was in fact afraid to enter the Mishkan due to the great presence of Hashem resting on it and therefore Hashem had to 'call' to Moshe in order to reassure him that the Tabernacle had been built to benefit him and his people and not to exclude them. With Moshe now all ears we are taught the laws regarding offerings. The first offering to be described is that of the עלה/olah or the 'elevation offering', which was brought by someone who had intentionally committed a sin for which the Torah does not prescribe a punishment or who failed to perform a positive commandment. This offering can also by brought by someone who had sinful thoughts or simply by someone who wants to do it just because they are that much of a mench. This was also the type of offering brought by us on the three 'pilgrimage' festivals to Jerusalem (Succos, Pesach and Shavuot). There are various versions of the translation of olah/עלה, a word whose root implies 'going up'... here are a few I could find...

Rashi states that Olah/עלה means an offering that is completely burned, because it 'goes up' in flames to G-d, According to Ramban the name refers to the sin for which this offering would normally be brought for, sinful thoughts... and the connection is that these thoughts 'come up' in a person's mind or imagination, Other mefarshim connect the fact that this offering is meant to 'raise' its owner from the status of a sinner and bring him to a state of spiritual elevation, I came up with the idea that we made this type of offering three times a year when would 'go up' to the Temple but I am sure someone more bearded than me came up with this concept before me.

These interpretations cover the purposes of the offering quite nicely so now we need to know what exactly was being offered. The Torah lists three categories of elevation offerings in separate paragraphs. The types of offerings can be from the herd, flock or birds and Abarbanel comments that they are listed in separate paragraphs to imply that if one can afford to bring a bull (from the herd), it is preferable for one to do so. If not, one may bring a sheep or goat (from the flock), and if one cannot afford even that one may bring a bird. We see therefore that there was an offering for all types of people, from the upper class, to your standard middle class suburbians (probably from Stanmore), to the poor people. We learn from this that we must serve Hashem according to our own abilities, if one can not afford to bring a whole bull or sheep then a bird is substantial... similarly we are commanded to give ten percent of our earnings to Tzedakah but if one can afford more then they should give more.

When the Torah describes how a bull is to be offered, it tells us that the Kohanim shall 'שחט/slaughter' the bull [1:5]. Similarly when it comes to describing the offering from the flock (a sheep or goat), we are told that the Kohanim shall 'שחט/slaughter it' [1:11]. With the final category of offering, the birds, we are told that the procedure was somewhat different however and the Torah tells us that the Kohen shall perform מלק/melika... which translates as 'nipping its head'. The melika of the bird was equivalent to the slaughtering of an animal. The Kohen 'nipped' the bird's head with his fingernail (which was grown long and sharpened especially for this task), severing its neck-bone, windpipe and gullet. It is brought down by the Rambam that it required great skill to perform this 'nipping' correctly and therefore, melika was considered to be one of the most difficult services in the Beis HaMikdash. So what exactly is going on here? Why not just slaughter the birds normally with a knife like we do anyway when we shecht them, what is all this 'nipping' of the head about?... The difference between nipping the bird and going to get a knife is that there is no 'going to get' involved when the Kohen is using his fingernail. A poor person comes into the Beis HaMikdash with a bird and he sees Mr. Abromavic with his perfect ox on one side and his boss, Mr Middle Class Moshe Goldberg with a nice fat lamb on the other side... what is he thinking? Bringing this measly bird in these circumstances is going to be quite embarrassing for our pauper, he is going to wonder if his donation is even going to make a difference or if anyone even cares what he is brining. By nipping the head with such a skilled and swift action, we are telling him that we appreciate his offering very much, so much so we are not even going to delay by going to get a knife, we are going to do it quickly with no wait. The Sefer Hachinuch explains that from the halacha of melika we can deduce practical hints for our own lives... according to it, the Torah is teaching us that we should act swiftly and with great dispatch when taking care of the needs of a poor person. By delaying him, we may prevent him from earning his livelihood and thus deprive him of income that is vital for him. In order to impress this lesson upon us, Hashem decreed that a bird, the poor man's offering, should not be slaughtered... ritual slaughtering is a time-consuming affair since it requires previous examination of the knife. Hashem therefore ordained that the bird's head be severed manually, which is the fastest method of killing it. In addition, the head was not nipped in a concealed spot for which the Kohen would have to search out, which would be time-consuming, rather he had to nip it in an obvious place on the neck, allowing the pauper's offering to be offered speedily. The famous story of 'Nachum Ish Gamzu' gives a perfect example of why delaying with the poor person can lead to tragedy...

Once, when he was travelling to his father-in-law's house with camel-loads of produce, when on the way he was approached by a poor person. Unfortunately, however, he was too slow in providing the man with food (perhaps he should have jumped off the camel to help him, perhaps he should have torn open the sacks of food or perhaps he should not have told him to wait until he unloaded the sacks), and the man died before he had a chance to help him. He then decreed that his eyes that did not have pity on the poor man's eyes should go blind, that his hands that did not move fast to act should be cut off and that his feet that did not run to provide for the poor man should be cut off. He was not satisfied until he added that his whole body should be covered in boils. Somehow he must have got into the hands of the Roman's as these horrific wishes came true. The legs of Nachum Ish Gamzu's bed were said to have been placed in bowls of water, because in addition to being bed-ridden... due to his hands being cut off he was unable to remove the ants that would craw all over his body. When his disciples said in anguish 'Woe to us that we see you in this state!', he replied 'Woe to you if you would not see me in this state'! What we learn from this very extreme example is that we must deal speedily with the poor lest he suffer the consequences of our delay. I must add however that this was a man who the Gemara explains, got his nickname from the fact that his reaction to anything that happened to him was always 'gam zu l'tovah' (and that is also for the good)... he was therefore on a much higher level than us and his reaction was therefore so.

The Torah tells us that the bird is to be offered 'with its feathers' [1:16] and they are not to be removed from the bird before it is burned upon the Altar, even though there is hardly a more repulsive smell than that of burning feathers. Why are they therefore left on the bird? Rashi tells us that this is because bird-offerings are usually brought by the poor person, who cannot afford more than a bird, and if the feathers were removed, the remainder of the bird would be so tiny and insignificant as to embarrass the pauper who offered it. We therefore endure the smell and let the Altar be adorned by the poor man's offering. Rashi comments that when a poor man brings an offering, Hashem counts it as if he gave up his soul, we can maybe see why this is with all the possible angles of embarrassment which might crop up in the public Beis HaMikdash. No matter what category of offering is written in the Torah, whether it be herd, flocks or the mere bird-offerings, they are all described as... 'a satisfying aroma to Hashem' [1:9,1:13,1:17]... this underlines the principle made above, that it doesn't matter whether one brings much or little, so long as one's heart is directed sincerely and he brings according to his ability, then Hashem accepts such an offering.

From these lessons taught over in this week's sedra, we must learn to personally deal very sensitively with poor people. When a person comes over asking for Tzedakah we must remember how embarrassing it must be for them and therefore act swiftly and generously, G-d forbid we would find ourselves in the same position. If we act in this way then no doubt it will be 'a satisfying aroma to Hashem'.

As we move into the month of Nissan, I hope everyone has a fun time with all that Pesach cleaning!! Shabbat Shalom and I wish you all a successful week ahead!

Daniel Sandground, (student at Ohr Somayach Yeshiva, Jerusalem)

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