Introduction to Chumash Vayikra

Two not-so-obvious resources to better get you in the mood for the next Chumash. One provides a jump-start to understanding the symbolic system of the avodah. The other very elegantly expresses what the entire notion of korbanos did – and can still do – to the Jewish soul.

1) The Hirsch Chumash
Two selections from parshas Vayikra provide wonderful insight that will be helpful through all the avodah sections. 1:5 shows the relationship between each of the four corners of the mizbeach and the rest of the Mikdosh. By drawing on those relationships, many of the differences in the halachos of the different korbanos becomes accessible. 1:17 explains the different motifs that are expressed by cattle, sheep, and birds, and how this impact on the nitty-gritty of their avodas dam. (This selection is paraphrased and developed in my shiur at )

2) Tradition Fall 2010 (43:3 pgs. 3-4,7) (available online to subscribers only)
Rabbi Dr Shalom Carmy’s editor’s notes are always a literary joy to behold. A few snippets from a few issues ago form a great backdrop to Vayikra. Addressing another’s suggestion that the Akeda was easier to present to children when they were used to giving up much, to doing without, Rabbi Carmy differs:

If earlier generations, by contrast with our own, indeed had no reason to keep the Akeda from their children, it is not just because the children had learned about doing without, but rather that they had intuited, from a young age, that Jewish life, for all its hardship and suffering, is a life lived in the presence of G-d. The word korban, usually translated as “sacrifice,” literally means “drawing close.” The kind of sacrifice that expresses and forms a life of religious commitment cannot merely be a readiness to “do without.” It is the offering up of the human being, through the korbanos offered in the Temple, through prayer, through devotion to the requirements of other human beings, through the endless toil of Torah study, and the readiness to suffer and die for His service. These are acts of drawing close to G-d because they are not merely gestures of renunciation or deferment but manifestations of reckless love and incomprehensibly joyful commitment…Our children and many of our adults have shunned the lesson that meaningful existence requires sacrifice, and hence have little conception of the absolute grandeur, the profound joy, the sheer closeness to G-d that are the mark of the sacrificial life. The corrective for a petty, passionless mode of existence is not to stand on its head by embracing the gospel of suffering uncritically and exhaustively…Rather than gaze upward at the vision of suffering, as Christians look upon the crucifix, it is our vocation to situate the ideal of human sacrifice within the thick experience of a halachic life devoted to redeeming and ennobling our mundane ongoing existence…

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1 Response

  1. Raymond says:

    I am not sure if I understood Rabbi Carmy correctly, but from what I can ascertain, I think what he is saying, is that while we can live our lives out as individuals only, that such a life may be a free one but not a truly meaningful one, whereas if we as individuals attach ourselves to a worthy group or cause, then our lives do take on meaning, for we make ourselves larger by being a part of that bigger picture.

    I think Rabbi Carmy is right. The psychopaths of our society, tend to be loners who have found no group with which to identify. Of course, one has to be very careful with what constitutes a worthy or at least harmless group, or else one faces the equal danger of joining some dangerous cult or draconian, destructive political movement such as communism or islamofascism. But it is human nature to want to be part of something. This can be mundane, such as fans cheering on the sports team with which they identify; it can seem ordinary yet is really heroic, such as choosing to be a spouse and a parent, or it can be sublime, such as identifying in a truly spiritual way with our Jewish people.

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