This week’s parsha, the first of the book of VaYikra, describes the sacrifices that an individual may bring. Thus, the parsha begins with, “... אָדָם כִּֽי־יַקְרִיב מִכֶּם קָרְבָּן לַֽה׳ .../… When a man from among you brings a sacrifice to God …” Sacrifices represent giving of oneself. As an analogy, the sacrificial animal takes our place on the altar. The Sfas Emes explains that although the animal takes the person’s place, the point of the sacrifice is for the person who is bringing it to intend, through the sacrifice, to give to God of his own inner strength and desires. Chazal teach us this in Maseches Avos, “בַּטֵל רְצוֹנְךָ מִפְּנֵי רְצוֹנוֹ/Nullify your own desire before His desire.” This is a key aspect of sacrifice. It is a vehicle for us to bring our activities closer to God. In fact, the word for sacrifice – קָרְבָּן – comes from the word לְקַרֵב/to draw near.
Another important point that we can learn from this pasuk can be gleaned from the seemingly extra word, “מִכֶּם/from among you.” Why is this word necessary? The pasuk is quite clear without it, “… When a man brings a sacrifice to God …” What does the word “מִכֶּם/from among you” add?
We can learn an answer to this question from the Chiddushei HaRim’s explanation of another mishnah in Maseches Avos. The mishnah states, “אִם אֵין אֲנִי לִי מִי לִי וְּכְשֶׁאֲנִי לְעַצְמִי מָה אֲנִי/If I am not for myself, who will be for me and if I am only for myself, what am I? The Chiddushei HaRim explains that each and every Jew came into this world in order to rectify something that only he can rectify. Each one of us has a unique mission that no one else can accomplish. This, the Chiddushei HaRim teaches, is the meaning of the first half of the sentence, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me.” If I do not fulfill my unique task, who will fulfill it for me. No one else can.
Although only I can fulfill my unique task, when I succeed I affect the entire nation and really, the entire Creation. Each unique mission is one part of a fabric which comprises all the unique missions together. This is the meaning of the second half of the sentence, “… If I am only for myself, what am I?” My deeds, my mission is meaningful and effective only because it is part of the nation.
This concept answers our question. The word “מִכֶּם/from among you” is the primary point of the pasuk. The sacrifice is effective because the individual bringing it is acting as part of the entire nation. This applies, the Sfas Emes says, not only to the actual animal sacrifice described in the pasuk. The animal sacrifice represents, as we’ve noted, giving God one’s own inner strength and desires, subjugating our own desires for God’s.
Each of us fulfilling our unique purpose, becomes meaningful and effective to the extent that we consider ourselves a part of the nation of