Friday, March 07, 2014
VaYikra 5635 First Ma'amar
This week we begin reading Sefer VaYikra most of which is about sacrifices and their laws. The Torah teaches that we can get absolution for our sins by sacrificing an animal to God. Why should bringing an animal sacrifice gain us penance?
The Sfas Emes explains that the life force of animals comes to them through us. We are the conduit. We see this in the following pasuk, “... כל שתה תחת רגליו/… You placed everything under his feet.” (Tehillim 8:7) The entire Creation is under Man. The Sfas Emes teaches that this pasuk is not referring only to the physical aspect of the world. It is referring to the spiritual aspect as well. All spirituality comes into the world through Man including the life force of the animals.
When we bring an animal sacrifice we are exchanging our own life force for that of the animal. Our life deserves to be taken. We are saying to God, please take the life force of the animal instead of ours.
With this idea we can explain a difficulty in a Midrash that Rashi brings on the pasuk, “... אדם כי יקריב מכם קרבן לה' .../… When a man from among you brings a sacrifice to God …” (VaYikra 1:2) The word, man/אדם/Adam in this pasuk is an uncommon usage. Generally, the Torah prefaces a commandment with the word, man/איש or sometimes, man or woman/איש או אשה. Why does the Torah introduce the topic of sacrifices with the word, man/אדם/Adam? Rashi answers, quoting Chazal, that the Torah is referencing Adam, the first man. Just as Adam did not bring sacrifices from that which was stolen since he owned everything, so too, may we not bring sacrifices from that which is stolen.
This Midrash is difficult to understand for two reasons. Firstly, without the Midrash would we have thought that it is permitted to bring sacrifices from stolen animals? Why do Chazal need to teach us this? Secondly, assuming that Chazal are not teaching us this but maybe they are teaching us that sacrifices from stolen animals are ineffective, what is the proof from Adam? He had no stolen animals!
The Sfas Emes therefore explains this Midrash homiletically. Chazal are teaching us about the nature of sacrifice. As we have said, the reason we can bring an animal sacrifice and be absolved is because animals derive their life force from us. We tell God, “Please take the life of the animal which derives from me in lieu of my own.” This only applies to a person on the level of Adam in the sense of the hierarchy we find in the Creation – דומם – inanimate, צומח – plant, חי –living, מדבר – speaking. מדבר/speaking, also means, “leading”. The Sfas Emes understands that the first man Adam, was on a level of leading and influencing the animals and the rest of Creation. He was the conduit through which life came to the entire Creation. Because of this he was able to sacrifice animals.
What of a person who is not on this level? About such a person Chazal say that even an insect was created before him; even an insect is on a higher level than he. How can he give God an animal in lieu of himself? The animal does not derive its life through him. It is as if he is sacrificing something that was stolen. It is ineffective.
What can we do to reach a higher level, a level on which life comes into the world through us? We learn from the pasuk quoted earlier, “... כי יקריב מכם .../… When he brings from among you …” The words, “from among you” seem to be extraneous. What do they add to this pasuk? The Sfas Emes teaches that we are able to raise our level by identifying with and subordinating ourselves to the nation. The nation as a whole is always on a higher level. The nation as a whole is always the conduit through which life and spirituality flow into this world. When we identify totally with the nation and become one with it, we come “from among you”, we can bring an effective animal sacrifice. May we merit it. Amen!