The Torah Podcast Transcript
050 The Torah Podcast – Why You Need an Animal Sacrifice – Penetrating Your Subconscious – Torah Portion of the Week – Vayikra – A Powerful Parable about Paying Back More – A Great Story about Rav Shack and Peace in Your Home – Giving Compliments
Torah Portion of the Week – Vayikra
The second possuk in Vayikra says, “Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them, ‘When a person from among you will bring an offering to Hashem from the animals, from the cattle and from the flocks, you shall bring your offering.’” And skipping over the third possuk, the fourth possuk says, “And he shall lean his hands on the head of the olah offering and it will be considered a pleasing on his behalf, to atone for him.” We see that the sacrifices will atone for the person bringing them. But the Malbim brought a very interesting explanation of the verse here. He says, “If you look closely you’ll notice that the name of Hashem that we brought was the name of mercy, yud kay vov kay. He brings Rav Yossi from the Sifri who explains, “We never bring a korban, a sacrifice, to the Shem Elokim, to the name of God which is the God of justice.” It’s always to the attribute of mercy, because the heretics believe that there are two forces in the world. You have to appease the God of justice, the source of bad and evil and destruction and death, and then you have the merit to live. But that’s not what the Jews believe. The Jews believe that you’re bringing the sacrifice directly to God, the God of mercy, the true God, the one God. It’s Hashem, the attribute of kindness, which accepts the animal in place of the man, really because the man rebelled against God he deserves to die. So we bring an animal in order to atone for our sin. But it’s a question of coming back to a merciful God, God who is Kulo Tov, 100 percent good and kind.
Now, this whole concept of offering animal sacrifices seems a little bit bizarre to us. We don’t really understand it. I want to explain it a little bit. Rav Dessler brings the Rambam who explains that the goats that are brought as a sin offering on Rosh Chodesh, the new month, and on the Festivals, comes to atone for the sins of Yosef’s brothers. Why? Because they slaughtered a young goat and they put the blood of that goat onto Yosef’s garment, and they brought it back to their father to tell him that Yosef was dead. That’s the symbolism behind bringing a goat as a sacrifice on those days. We see that the Rambam views these offerings as a kind of treatment for a spiritual defect lodged deeply in the subconscious of the nation. In other words, for all the generations we’re going to bring this. Why? Because deep in our subconscious we have the sin of the brothers against Yosef in our blood. It’s in our psyche. It’s a question of penetrating our subconscious to really understand what is sin, what we did wrong, and how we have to return. But it’s not coming from a place of absolute judgment. It’s coming from a place of kindness and love. I’m going to explain more.
The Midrash in Vayikra Rabba explains that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai said that, “God even showed the offering of the efer, a measure of fine flour, to Avraham Avinu. This was the simplest offering.” The Shem Mi Shmuel explains that this offering had neither oil or spices. What does that mean? Oil refers to good deeds and Torah, and the spices refers to the matriarchs which means the good character traits that a man has, which comes from his mother. So, this offering comes from someone who has sinned, who has neither good deeds or Torah or good character, and still the offering is accepted. The question is, how can it be that God accepts an offering from somebody who has no good deeds, no Torah, and not good character? Where’s the justice? If that’s true, everybody could just do whatever they want and then bring this offering, and then God would forgive them. It must be that even though this person is lacking in every way, he has one thing that’s going to help him and save him. That quality is that he wants to return to God. The possuk in Mishlei says, “The offering of an evil person is abomination.” So why is this person not an evil person? Because he’s on the way back, he’s on the way up. He’s bringing an offering in order to return. Since that’s true, he’s not entirely out of the system. He’s back in the system. And that’s what it means that he’s coming on to the attribute of chessed, of the kindness of God. He wants to return to God. It’s not a question of appeasing the forces of destruction, that God wants to kill us and destroy us because we’ve sinned. It’s not that. He’s coming back to God as a son comes back to his father. But even so, in order to do this we need to bring the animal sacrifices in order to penetrate our subconscious that it should mashbiah, it should affect us – a real affect.
You know we have the minhag, the custom, before Yom Kippur of kapparas, where we take a chicken, we put it over head three times. Then we shecht it in front of us, we watch the chicken be slaughtered properly. And it has an effect, and that’s just a chicken. When you see that chicken slaughtered and you see the chicken die, it shakes you up in a way that nothing else could. This is why God wanted us to bring the sacrifices. This is what the Seforno says. “When any man of you brings and offering…” in other words, when he sacrifices himself. What does it mean, to sacrifice yourself? Through confession and submission like it says, “So we will offer the words of our lips instead of our calves. The sacrifices of God are our broken spirit, for He has no desire for fools who bring offerings without sense, prior to submission to God.” It’s not a question of bringing an offering. It’s a question of submitting yourself to realizing that you are dependent on God. You need God, you can’t live without God. You can’t breathe without God. You can’t exist without God. He says that, “Coming to exclude when it says mechem, from you, to exclude the apostate who says, ‘There is no God. I don’t need God. I could do whatever I want.’” He further explains, “And you shall lay his hands on his sacrifice…” we know you put your hands on the sacrifice, all his body weight, “As though he was falling down and praying to God; that his iniquity be on the head of the sacrifice.” Similar to the scapegoat. “Thus he will manifest submissive thoughts of repentance which are in his heart.” He’s putting all of his body weight on the animal to transfer as if he is being sacrificed. The animal is being sacrificed. When he sees an animal being sacrificed, it penetrates his heart that really he was supposed to die.
He goes on further and says, “It is proper that certain parts of the sacrifice be given to the Cohanim.” Why? Because they’re the servants of God, who occupy themselves with His service, a symbolic exchange of the limbs of the sinner which were used for evildoing. Since he used his limbs to sin, he is now giving the limbs of the animal to the Cohen and the Cohen is using that koach, strength to serve God, because the Cohen uses his limbs to serve God. Like it says, “The Cohenim eat from the sacrifice and the owners gain atonement,” Gemara Pesachim 59:B.
I know the idea of animal sacrifices seems very strange, but we have to understand this is the only way we’re going to penetrate our subconscious, that it should really move us to come back with a full heart to our Creator.
Rabbeinu Bachyeh explains further. He says, “The reason why we take the beheima from domesticated animals and not from wild animals that run around, is because the domestic animals are victims much more than the wild animals who are aggressive.” He brings in a Gemara in Shabbos, “It’s better to be alone in the category of people suffering insults than to be part of the group that are insulting others. And no bird suffers more than turtle doves and the pigeons, which are sacrifices that we bring. That’s why they’re fit for the altar.” The message is that we have to accept whatever God gives us. We have to understand that it’s kulo chessed, it’s only kindness. The possuk says, “But those who love Him be as the sun’s rising might.” That’s talking about someone who is insulted and doesn’t answer back. He would be like the sun, because the sun was the first thing in creation to be insulted. The moon insulted him, and that’s why the moon was made little. So, all of the sacrifices and all the details of the sacrifices are there to teach us for us to change ourselves, which is a very difficult thing to change – very hard. But we need the help of an external, physical sacrifice in order for it to penetrate our hearts, that we’ll really change.
That was true when we had the Temple, and we had the sacrifices. But today, what do we have? What do we do? The Gemara in Berachos 26:B says, “Rabbi Yehoshua bin Lavi said, ‘Our daily prayers correspond to the sacrificial offerings” – the korban tamid which was a burnt offering. And Rav Schwab wants to come along and explain that from the details of the sacrifices we can learn how to pray. The possuk in Vayikra says, “He shall skin the burnt offering and cut it into pieces. The sons of Aharon haCohen should place it on the fire, and the Cohen shall burn it on the altar.” We can learn from these three things, the skinning, the cutting and the burning. “The skinning,” he says, “means to take away the physicality. When you pray you have to take away your body, and get in touch with your soul.” This is the way that we’re going to change ourself, through prayer. Since we no longer have sacrifices, we have to pray. So, step number one in prayer is to remove the physical.
The Ohr haChayim brings down the early Chassidim who would spend hours before davening, praying, trying to isolate themselves and concentrating and pushing away everything physical so that when they daven, they’re really standing in front of Hashem. We have to withdraw inside of our minds and get in touch with our inner selves. This is the thing that’s going to help us to pray and help us to change. Number two, the cutting – the offering was cut into pieces. What does that mean? Nishbar lev, a broken heart, a humble heart. We have to break ourselves down. We have to realize how small we are, how powerless we are, and we sinned. That’s the nishbar lev, a broken heart. The third thing was, it has to be burnt on the altar. What does that mean? Hislavus, enthusiasm. When you pray, you have to pray with all your energy, as if you’re totally consumed on the altar. And this is what we have today instead of the sacrifices. This is the method of how to change – by applying ourselves in prayer.
We know at the beginning of the shemona esrei it says, “My Lord, open my lips that my mouth may declare Your praise.” Why do we have to say that? Because if we pray properly, we have taken ourselves totally out of the physical. When we’re standing there humble with a broken heart, even to the point where we can’t talk, so we ask Hashem, “Please open my mouth, open my lips, that I should come back to you with a full heart.”
A Powerful Parable
The Maggid mi Dubno brings the possuk, he says, “And he shall slaughter the calf before Hashem.” He asks, Why would they use the word hakrov, sacrifice, when it comes to this calf? Hakrov also means to bring close, it’s a sacrifice or to bring close. Why do we use that language? He wants to explain with a parable. One time there was a wealthy man who had two agents who he sent out to sell his merchandise. He gave them a large quantity of stuff, 30,000 gold coins worth, but they were lax and it got stolen. They were so embarrassed and so ashamed they came back to him, they didn’t know what to do. The wealthy man realized there’s no way these guys are going to be able to pay back this amount of money. I’ll have them pay 100th of the amount back which is 300 gold coins, which is also a very large sum. Since it was so much, they could pay three gold coins a week. But one of the workers was really poor, and he could only pay back two gold coins a week. The other one had a little bit more money, so he decided to pay back four gold coins a week. But when the poor man came to pay him back, he received the money with a smile. And when the guy who had a little bit more money who paid the four coins, he received him with a cold shoulder. His family didn’t understand – why the poor guy, you accepted him with a big smile. He pays you less. And the other guy, you pay no attention to him? He says, “Listen, there’s no way for these guys to pay back the loss that I incurred. But at least the guy who pays me less, he’s ashamed. He’s going to try harder in the future. He’s going to change himself. But the guy who pays me more, he comes in with gaiva, arrogance. He thinks he’s doing me a favor, because he pays a little bit more than I asked for.” So too, for Hashem. When we sin, there’s really no way to pay Hashem back. There’s no way to fix up what we messed up. The main thing is to have a broken and humble heart, and seek Hashem’s forgiveness. Therefore, somebody who cannot to bring an ox, he always comes in and he feels humble. But someone who brings a large ox comes in thinking, “Wow, I provided riches for my Maker.” He feels as if he’s doing Hashem a favor, and that’s why it doesn’t say, “Hakriv, that he comes close to God.”
Great Stories – Rav Shach
The possuk in Vayikra 3:16 says, “Kol Chelev l’Hashem, all the choicest parts should be for God. So, the Rambam explains, “Anything for the sake of Hashem should be attractive and good. If he feeds the poor, he should feed them from his best, from the sweetest things that he has.” If he wants to bring something to the Temple he has to bring from his finest possessions. All the choicest part are for Hashem.
One time Rav Meir HaLevy Birnbaum went to Rav Shach to get an appropriation for his book. Rav Shach was over 90 years old, and he began to write. But it took him a very, very long time to write. It was very hard for him. He was writing two lines, letter by letter. Who knows how long it took him, 15 minutes? Then he realized that he forgot to write the author’s name. Instead of putting it in, fitting it in somehow and going back to the beginning of the line, he started all over again. He re-wrote the entire letter, because whatever you have to do has to be attractive and good.
Peace in Your Home
Rav Simcha Cohen explains how to make compliments work. He says, “Most of the time when people compliment each other, husband and wife, they don’t really think too much about it. They just throw out words here and there. But really to give a compliment it takes some thought. If you want to do the mitzvah to love your neighbor as your own self, you have to think about it. You have to give the right type of compliment.
He brings an example where a couple comes in, and the husband says, “She never compliments me. She never mentions any of my good qualities. Not a single thing I do for the family.” The wife says, “I can’t believe you just said that. I always show appreciation for him.” So, what happened here? The answer is, there’s a breakdown in the communication. Most couples nowadays, if you ask them if their spouse compliments them they’ll say, “No.” Why is that? Usually because the compliment is just technical, they say it off the cuff. Or it’s vague, or it’s trivial. But the truth is, a compliment is not given until the compliment has been heard. The other person has to hear it. It’s not good enough that you say it. You have to say it in a way that the other person hears it. That requires understand what type of compliment the other person needs. For example, if you have someone who’s very intellectual and you compliment him, what a great athlete he is and how nice he looks, he’s going to take it as an insult, because his main thing is intellectual. He wants to be complimented on how smart he is. Also, if a person is running for public office, he wants to hear what a great example he is, what a model for the community he is, not how great he plays basketball.
One time, a husband came home from his parents and told his wife, “Wow, you should know my parents really complimented you.” She said, “What did they say?” He said, “Wow, what a great housekeeper you are. You get up early, you work so hard.” What did she answer? “What? They think I’m a workhorse? They haven’t got one good thing to say about me!” The compliment has to be fitting to what the person needs, their emotional needs. And one compliment is not enough. A person needs a lot of compliments.
He brings Rav Chaim Volozhin who says in the Pirkei Avos, “Let your fellow’s honor be as dear as it is to your own.” Rav Chaim explains, “Usually, the person giving the compliment says, ‘Wow. I did a great job. I just gave that guy a compliment.’ But the one who received the compliment says, ‘What? That’s one tenth of what I deserve.’” So what does it mean, “Let your fellow’s honor be as dear as your own?” You should compliment them 10 times more, because when you receive a compliment you think it’s nothing. So at least he should emphasize what your partner is, and give them 10 times more compliments because that’s what they need. We know that when you do chessed, when you want to do kindness to somebody, you have to give them according to their needs. In other words, if one time a guy was a rich guy and he lost all of his money, you have to help out this guy much more to bring him back to his level. You have to make him feel comfortable again.
The Malbim explains, “You can’t refuse the guy on the grounds of, oh that’s his problem. He’s just spoiled.” No, that’s who he is. You have to help him according to what he needs. So too, when it comes to compliments. If your spouse needs more compliments you have to give them more. So there’s no rule of how many compliments you’re supposed to give. It all depends what the person needs. Bezrat Hashem, next week we’ll continue and we’ll explain how to make the compliment fit.
Okay, that’s it for this week’s podcast, I hope you enjoyed it. Please share it with your friends and I’m asking as a personal favor, to please leave a comment and a rating on iTunes. This is the only way that the podcast is going to spread.
Rabbi Eliyahu Mitterhoff