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Parshas Vayikra - The Fine Print    1 Nisan 5783

03/23/2023 12:29:49 PM


This week's Dvar Torah is sponsored anonomously for a continued Refuah Shelaima for Eitan Yakov ben Miriam Esther 

Have you ever listened to a commercial for a new drug? The advertisement gets patients excited about something that may help improve their lives only to hear a bunch of warnings quickly rattled off noting severe side effects,  potential risks and possible death if the drug is taken. Ever read the bottom of an advertisement for a new medication? It, too, has numerous warnings written in illegible, microscopic type. Have you ever received a one-paragraph or even a one-word email from an attorney that will automatically say at the bottom of the message, “Please read the legal disclaimer that governs this email and any attachments.” When you click on the underlined legal disclaimer, a twenty-page document filled with disclaimers, disclosures, and warnings opens for your reading pleasure. In the financial realm, one reads articles or attends seminars to gain knowledge and advice on an array of money matters. After all is said and done, there are disclaimers stating these are “forward-looking statements, hypotheticals, illustrations and examples”.

 What does a disclaimer do or mean? A disclaimer is a formal statement saying that the individual or business is not legally responsible for something, such as the information provided in an advertisement, an email, or  in a book. A disclaimer is in place specifically to protect your business against potential legal claims. For example, its policy will prove a key document and help to protect your business against liability, should the action result in a court case. Other declarations come in the form of a statement such as: "The author assumes no responsibility or liability for any errors or omissions in the content of this site. The information contained in this site is provided on an "as is" basis with no guarantees of completeness, accuracy, usefulness, or timeliness.”

Once upon a time a person made a statement or wrote something that had meaning and backing. That all changed, at least in the United States, when mandatory messages first appeared after the passage of the Federal Caustic Poisons Act (FCPA) of 1927, a law that ordered sellers of poisons to provide warning labels on their bottles. Of course, warnings of hazardous, and poisonous ingredients should be in bold, large font.  Information regarding vitally important ingredients or issues should not be presented in a type size so small that the reader needs to squint and strain his eyes to see, nor should it be verbally explained at high speed and in a barely audible frequency. In all my decades of  earning, I never read a commentary from any of the Rishonim, Acharonim, and or modern day Poskim who include any disclaimers at the end of their explanations, decisions, or rulings.  

In Judaism things are reversed; the warnings and explanations are up front, written  in large font, inviting easy readability with full, clear disclosure. As we now begin Sefer Vayikra - the book of Leviticus - we immediately confront all of the sacrifices that a person might come to offer.

There are many reasons given that the offering of sacrifices brings atonement to a sinner for his sins.  Both the Ramban and Rabbeinu Bachya explain that although some reasons are given, nevertheless, there are deep secrets and understandings which we are incapable of grasping. With that said, I will present five general reasons why we offer sacrifices, all of which are possible for our human intellect to process. The five reasons are taken from the Meam Loez. The first reason is to arouse the hearts of man that when he committed a sin he rebelled against God. In the event that one may contemplate how it could be possible for a lowly human being to have the audacity to go against Hashem’s will,  Hashem commanded a person who sinned to return, to repent, and do to the animal one of the four capital punishments that this individual  deserved.  Since God is compassionate, He gives an extension of life to a human being, and the sacrificial animal takes his place. Therefore, when mentioning the Korbanos/sacrifices, it is always LaHashem, representing mercy and not L’Elokim, which is judgment. Reason number two is to offer a way for the Kohanim to receive sustenance. The Kohanim do not receive land in Israel and therefore needed support through different means, in this case working the sacrifices in the Beis HaMikdash and also being exclusively entitled to certain parts of the sacrificial animal.  A person can dedicate his work and service with more attention when there is no need to worry about parnassa. The third reason, given by the author of Akeida Toldos Yitzchok, explains the sacrificial offering as a penalty. Requiring a person who sinned to shell out big money to purchase an animal created regret and perhaps a method of prevention against future violations. Money talks, and if a person would have to pay for every sin committed, it just might curb some of those instincts and spare a person’s bank account. The fourth reason, given over in the name of the Eben Ezra, is to make a person think about his/her actions and have a heavy heart when contemplating the process the animal must go through because of the person’s actions or behavior. He must watch the slaughter of the animal and then watch as it burned into ash and dust, similar to what happens to a person at the end of his life. It reminds the sinner that it is not worth the fleeting moment of physical pleasure, now realizing that his actions were all for nothing. The entire sacrificial process reminds a person that only the mitzvos and good deeds performed in this world will bring him to the next world. The fifth reason, according to the Rambam in the Moreh Nevuchim, is that we offer Korbanos – sacrifices - to distance the Jewish people from the impurity of idolatry. The Jews watched the Egyptians worshipping the lamb and sheep, knowing that it was forbidden to kill those animals. Hashem gave the Jewish people a mitzva to sacrifice the very kind of animals that represented the deities of the Egyptians. When we sacrificed these animals in the Beis HaMikdash, we reversed the distancing from Hashem,  growing closer to Him. The definition of the word Korban means ‘to get close’, and through these actions we grow closer to Hashem.

The first Parsha of Vayikra presents and lays out all the mechanisms needed to repair our relationship with Hashem. The rest of Vayikra is filled with descriptions of the sins and situations of impurity and process for correcting and strengthening our relationship with Hashem. The warnings and safety precautions are mentioned first, prior to acting inappropriately or finding ourselves in situations requiring the bringing of one of those sacrifices mentioned at the very beginning of Sefer Vayikra.  

Sat, May 18 2024 10 Iyyar 5784