THE JERUSALEM JEWISH VOICE
THE WEEKLY TORAH READING -- A FIRST GLANCE
VAYIKRA ("He called...")
This study is dedicated to the memory of Ariel, the son of Carl and Nettie
You can also read previous studies on this site.
PREFACE: Rav Mordecai Gafni, director of Milah, The Jerusalem Institute for Jewish Culture, concluded that loneliness is my inability to convey my own unique essence and attitudes to those about me; they simply don't understand me, tho they may extend love and aid. In a sense, it's not me they love, but their image of me. Agony and anxiety accompany close encounters between those who love, and feel responsible for, each other, yet are so distant in outlook and essence. You pick your friends, not your relatives! Tho you also pick your spouse, you are, in the process, unconsciously working out your earliest paternal relationships-- see Getting the Love You Want for how to use this knowledge to enhance your marriage.
Rav Yosef Soloveichik points out that one can feel loonily lonely in a crowded room, yet not feel alone at all when completely alone with God, Who hearkens to prayer, Who hears every nuance of my self-expression, Who "looks over my shoulder" as I pore over His Torah in the middle of the night. The Rov noted the deepest connection between those who are "chaverim l'deah", who share aspirations, inspirations and insights, tho not biologicaly or matrimonially related. I personally feel at home, amidst "chaverim l'deah", at Rav Gafni's holistic shiurim-happenings-- he tries to "put it all together", to blend the intellectual, the emotional and the spiritual, Carlebach and Soloveichik, the Ishbetzer and Ibsen, as do most of the 300 folks who come each week, joining him in Carlebach nigunim before and after the shiur; he reached a new plateau this week, when he held a pre-Purim happening-- after his outstanding shiur, Rabbi Leonid Feldman led the celebration, and all joined Rav Yose Chayes in Carlebachian chassidic learning and singing. Gafni stressed the link of memory and morality in Esther, as opposed to impulsive evil, which lives only for, and in, the moment; without a past, there is no future. Gafni's more spacious and bright new venue, the ICC, added a lot to the experience; 300 is no longer his limit! Tho changing venues is difficult and cumbersome, as birth-pangs, it often leads to a new higher level of life-- he who changes his place, changes his luck! Many hardships are indeed forerunners of great success-- the Jews grew and prospered in Egypt, in direct proportion to their persecution. May Milah and Rav Gafni continue to go and grow from strength to strength! May God comfort His petitioners at the Hildesheimer Shul upon the loss of their most dynamic shiur.
Rav Gafni portrayed Moshe as a lonely man of faith, as was Adam, before Eve (cf. Avraham, Rambam and the Kotzker). We now begin Leviticus, which opens with God's call of love to Moshe and to each of us, to which we respond by drawing near to Him, via The Divine Service, temporarily replaced by prayer alone. Rambam (Guide, III:17-18) notes that God's Providence, as manifested to individual human beings, is in proportion to how much they develop their own unique Divine intellectual Image (emulating Him, Whose main attribute is His Oneness, His Uniqueness-- Rav JBS; Rambam, whose mother died at birth, and whose father's love was linked to little Rambam's intellectual development, overstresses intellect over emotion, unlike the Besht; his ardent followers are usually of similar disposition); this may reflect the inability of truly rugged individualistic men of faith to overcome their loneliness otherwise (Rav Gafni's tape on Loneliness is $7 from TOP)
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A. HOLY HEBREW SCHOOL
I rejoice and thank God, with all my heart, that he made me an Ashkenazic Jew in my pronunciation (Yaakov Emden, 1761)
The Hebrew language is God's own native tongue, from which all other languages derive, after the Babelian dispersion (see Yitzchak Mozeson's TOP video lecture); the universe is created by God, using holy Hebrew words (see Genesis I); it interfaces with His Torah, also in holy hebrew. Only a holy language, transcending normal linguistic rules, could be revived as a living language, in the holy land, after an almost 2000 year lapse. Popular wisdom has it that Hebrew, as a living language, was far better preserved in the sephardic tradition; the sephardic pronunciation, deemed more authentic, has been generally adopted in Israel; but several scholars of note disagree-- NYU Prof. Katch believed that the ashkenazic pronunciation, with more distinctions among letters and vowels, was the more authentic. An Oxford study, Hebrew in Ashkenaz-- A Language in Exile, edited by Lewis Gilbert ($40 from TOP), tries to reverse the age-old academic prejudice against the legitimacy of Ashkenazic Hebrew. It portrays Ashkenazi Hebrew as a language with vibrancy and creativity all its own, from which today's Hebrew emerged with remarkably little effort. The essays, by high level academics, include The Ashkenazi Chasidic Concept of Language, The Grammatical Literature of Medieval Ashkenazi Jewry, the Phonology of Ashkenazic, Hebrew and the Chabad Communication Ethos, and Why Did Ben Yehuda Suggest the Revival of Spoken Hebrew? We'll use a few specially holy hebrew words in this study:
KORBAN (plural: korbanot) is a sacrifice; MISHKAN is The Tabernacle; BEIT (BEIS in Ashklenazis) HAMIKDASH (plural: batei mikdash) is the Temple in Jerusalem; the first two were in Jerusalem-- the third will probably be 45 mil away; either it or Jerusalem will relocate; see Artscrolls' wonderful Eisemann Ezekiel, Chs. 40, 45 and 48.
CHAREDIM are those very traditional Jews, who attempt to perpetuate life as it was hundreds of years ago, including its food and clothing; they somewhat resemble the Menonites, who preceded them by 200 years, in this respect; but charedim have nothing against modern technology per se, and aren't specially attuned to simplicity and nature, as are Menonite and Amish folks, tho early chassidic masters wandered the woods (see a wonderful film, The Frisco Kid, for their interface); they tend to take the strictist interpretations of ritual law, and stress outward behavior and conformity-- see Naomi Regan's penetrating overview of the charedi world in her engrossing novels, e.g. The Sacrifice of Tamar, based upon a true story in Bnei Brak about 15 years ago). Charedim are often confused with Chassidim, a subgroup of charedim, followers of the Baal Shem Tov and his pupils; they left the mainstream ashkenazic community of Eastern Europe, which stressed intellect, via talmudic study, as the path to God and Godliness; but the Besht stressed service of the heart, prayer and religious joy, as the primary path. Their traditional fierce opponents are called misnagdim.
Both types of charedim, and their many sub-groups, are still going strong; but the war between chassidim and misnagdim has lost much of its force; both groups now face greater threats-- the modern secular world and non-traditional Judaism; the latter groups-- Conservative, Reconstructionist and Reform-- tend to identify with the chassidim, "fellow rebels". But the chassidim, as earlier disputants, e.g. Hillel and Shamai, retained and followed the truly traditional belief in a Divinely Dictated Torah, and submitted to the authority of halacha (Jewish Law), unlike Reform, Reconstructionist, and most of Conservative, Judaism.
Israeli Charedim are relatively insular (except for Outreach groups, e.g. Arachim and Habad, and public service organizations, e.g. Yad Sara and Ezer Mitziyon); but they're very kind, charitable and socially sensitive and concerned within their own particular charedi communities, tho vicious infighting is common (e.g. Satmar vs. Chabad, Viznitz the Father vs. Viznitz the Son, Rav Landau vs. Rav Shach); some, e.g. Satmar, will do great acts of charity and kindness for non-religious Jews too, while keeping their safe social and cultural distance from them; charedi males, especially in Israel, usually lack good secular education, intensive military experience and high level skilled professions (but U.S., Belgian and British charedim may be quite sophisticated, as are many returnee neo-charedim, e.g. those in Aish Hatorah, Ohr Somaach and Chabad circles). But charedi women are usually much more broadly educated than their menfolk, outside of talmudic realms, since they do not have to constantly study Torah; Halpern's general hebrew encyclopedia for charedim is a significant breakthru in opening up Charedi men ot the world about them-- that may explain why some haredi leaders try to suppress the work.
Charedim, especially chassidim, live more naturally, positively and sacrificially than most Jewish groups, by marrying young and having many children (so do truly religious modern Zionist Jews); most charedim, unfortunately, don't yet see the State of Israel as the beginning of God's redemption, and don't even celebrate Israel Independence Day or Soldiers' Memorial Day; unlike religious Zionists, who stress the half full glass, they don't appreciate what they've gained from having a State of Israel, and from the sacrifices of its armed forces and police-- they usually do not even pray for them on Shabbat in their synagogues and yeshivot, tho their ancestors prayed for every drunken Tzar and his army.
COHEN (plural: cohanim) is a hereditary priest, descended from Aharon, who must avoid close contact with the dead, and marriage with divorcees and converts; Jerusalem's ashkenazic chief rabbi (appointed by the secular government, not recognized by most of his fellow charedim) boycotted a major public ceremony where Supreme Court Justice Chaim Cohn, who violated this law, was honored; Cohn, who studied with Rav A. Y. Kook, has represented Israel on the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, is editor of Jewish Law in Ancient and Modern Israel, and has written an analysis of The Trial and Death of Jesus, from the standpoint of Jewish law. Would the chief rabbi respond similarly to ceremonies where great Torah scholars who smoke, committing slow suicide and inspiring others to emulate them (e.g. judges of the Badatz), are honored?
P.S. SHUL is a yiddish term for a synagogue, SHTIEBEL for a small informal shul. ALIYA is ascent to the Holy Land of Israel.
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B. THE BACKGROUND, AND AN OVERVIEW, OF LEVITICUS-- VOL. III OF GOD'S TORAH.
In Exodus, Vol. II, 2 stages in the Divine plan for world redemption from Zion were realized-- 1) the first truly Jewish family develops into the nation of Israel and 2) in the mishkan, and via the pillars of cloud and fire, that nation achieves a constant intimate relationship with God, just as He related to the patriarchs. The mishkan raised Jewish consciousness-- it symbolically portrayed all aspects of the universe, their relationships, and their relation to Divinity.
A GUEST ARTICLE (by our Shabbat guest, Chayim Bancroft, temporarily of Toronto-- email@example.com):
Thus the mishkan also resembles God's other microcosmos, Man-- it too has outer "skin" (the outer curtains of goat and tachash skins), an intellectual center (the menora, corresponding to the light of understanding), a food processing mechanism, without which the intellect cannot function (the copper altar at the entrance to the mishkan, and the table within, with its supply of weekly bread, consumed by the cohen), and at its heart, the tablets in the ark in the Holy of Holies(compare the 2 tablets of the decalogue with the heart's ventricles). Each space inside the mishkan is separated and defined by membranes (curtains). The entire structure is supported by wooden acacia beams, its ribs and skeletal framework. Over this are stretched the curtains and animal skins. Close to the place of the heart is the altar of incense. associated with the sense of smell, and the soul. The cherubs spread their wings over the ark, tightly bound to its cover, the capores, corresponding to the lungs and their close and vital connection to the heart.The kiyor (laver) represents the function of water in the body. Each of the holy utensils may represent an inner organ of the human body.
Chayim exposition expands, and differs with, that of the Rambam, cited in Chidushei Hagaonim on Menachos 29, quoted in The Midrash Says; in The Guide, 3:45, Rambam gives a simple explanation of the mishkan; but he dwells upon its "secret", nistar, implications in his grand letter of life wisdom and instructions to his son, Avraham, a manual of intimate personal morality; there he claims that the table represent the liver, the menora the spleen; the sacrificial altar represents our natural heat, the altar of incense man's intuitive illumination. The holy scrolls, in the ark, symbolize human wisdom, the cherubim, protecting them, the safeguarding of our health. it is translated into English and expounded in Letters of Maimonides, by Leon D. Stitskin. He claims that it was also meant for his spiritual son, Ibn Aknin (whom Rambam calls his "dear son" in a letter), and the children of his brother David, whom he adopted, for he addresses his "children", but had only one son (but I recall a letter from Rambam, wherein he portrays difficulties and tension with his daughters). His first wife must have died early (see Meor Enayim, de Rossi, Ch. 25) and a daughter, perhaps David's, died young (mentioned by Rambam, in that letter to Ibn Aknin, where he urges Aknin not to mourn or grieve at the demise of any individual, male or female, the survival of the species being the focus of the notion of goodness).
In Egypt, Rambam married the sister of Abin-Almali, one of the royal secretaries; they were long childless, per Stitskin. In 1185, at 51, he fathered his first and olny son, Avraham. In his letter to Chasdai, Rambam indicates that Avraham was sickly; so he educated him himself, in Talmudic, philosophic and medical studies. Avraham succeeded his father as head of Egyptian Jewry and served as physician to a brother of Saladin. He combined Aggada with Rambam's philosophy.
One of the many subliminal messages suggested by the above exposition is that, just as the sanctuary structure resembles a human body, so the human body should become a sanctuary, treated and respected as such. Then it can become an abode of the shechina, the concentrated manifest essence of God-- They shall make me a sanctuary, and I shall dwell within them (Ex. 25:8, Sifse Cohen). The mishkan thus provides the children of Israel with a tangible model of the connection between their bodies, the microcosmos, and the structure and plan of God's cosmos, the universe. It henceforward becomes the meeting place (ohel mo'ed) of heaven and earth. The leaders and the people try repeatedly and unsuccessfully to erect the mishkan. Moses, undaunted, exerts himself in the seemingly impossible task, and the mishkan basically erects itself - a hint perhaps to the eventual resolution of the seemingly insoluble conflicts of modern Israel, torn between heaven and earth, body and soul, the moment and eternity-- CB.
So God closes Exodus with the mishkan's successful completion, when His Glory became manifest there-- a $1,000,000 sterile Temple is a failure; a store front shtiebel, vibrant with God's Presence, is a great success-- yet it too may no longer ring true, if its adherants voluntarily remain in Boro Park exile! God's made aliya too, and He's now back home with us in Jerusalem (see Psalm 135).
The Book of Leviticus (Vayikra) opens with detailed laws of Divine korbonot, only to be performed in the Mishkan and its successor Batei Mikdash; this experience can help man come closer to God (the root of korban is "k'rov", to draw near). God's Passionate Presence permeates every detail and law of nature and Torah-- all knowledge stems from awareness of His existence; this impels one to explore His world and Torah in detailed depth and breadth, to get closer to His Essence-- clal v'prat v'clal-- general perceptions lead to specific knowledge, which leads to deeper, yet subtler, generalizations. Torah often deepens, rather than resolves, basic existential issues (Rav JBS). So Einstein merited grand inspiring overviews only AFTER mastering the details of science. Dedicating or sacrificing all realms of life to Him concretely expresses and reinforces this worldview. Leviticus also teaches us how to RETAIN and RESTORE ritual purity of the mishkan (15:31, 16:16,33). The Cohanim, assisted by the Levites, are in charge of the mishkan and korbanot; thus this book is called Toras Cohanim, the Teaching for (or "of") The Priests, in Jewish tradition (Ramban). The Greek Septuagint Bible also calls it Leviticus-- laws of the Levites and cohanim.
But much of Leviticus doesn't specifically relate to cohanim or korbonot (e.g. marital relations, awe of parents, love of fellow man, and empathy with the stranger-- see Lev. 18-20). Indeed, it contains 247 of the 613 biblical commandments, per Rambam. Ramban claims that most of these commandments do specially relate to the priesthood, but doesn't show how. Perhaps the mishkan's rituals and korbanot contain the moral messages which underlie and define all the subsequent laws of the Teaching OF (not for) The Cohanim, who are also leading teachers of the Torah.
A BROADER PERSPECTIVE: Rav David Hoffman applies "The Teaching For/Of The Cohanim" to the laws for the entire Jewish people, God's "kingdom of PRIESTS (mamleches cohanim) and holy nation (goy kadosh)", blessing and teaching Mankind by their example. Concentric circles of Universal Man, his Jewish Priests, and the Priests within Israel itself, are to work together for Everyman's return to Eden (Ex. 19:6, Gen. 12:3, 18:18). The Intimate contact between God and His "kingdom of Priests" is to radiate from all aspects of their national life, as His "holy nation"; this, in turn, reinforces their intimacy with God; but it can only arise amidst integrity, efficiency, and ethical holiness, both public and private. Lev. 1-17 deals with Israel's first step-- achieving Divine intimacy, via korbonot and the mishkan; Chs. 18-20 then give Divine laws and principles to apply this holiness, elevating and sanctifying all realms of public and private life in Israel-- may it happen soon!
So the mishkan's furnishings represent all realms of life, e.g. the table of wealth and power and the menora of intellectual light; every realm must be imbued with holiness, God's presence. In the haftara for Shabbat Hachodesh, read just before Nissan, we read (Ezekial 46) that visitors to the Beit Hamikdash entered its north or south gate and left by the opposite gate. Rav Yitzchak Breuer, a descendant of holy Hirsch, regards this as symbolic of the their need to integrate Mikdash Messages into life's two major realms-- 1) the material, physical and sensual-- symbolized by the table in the north side of the mishkan and beit hamikdash, and 2) the spiritual and intellectual-- symbolized by the menora, in the south side.
C. is for CRITICIZING THE CRITICS
Great Torah scholars, e.g. Rabbis Chaim Heller and David Hoffman, refuted many arguments of the "higher and lower (textual)" Bible criticism. Rav Hertz of JTS confronts critical attacks on the Bible in his famous British pentateuch-- e.g. alleged borrowing from other ancient Flood Epics. He sharply contrasts the unethical polytheistic Babylonian Deluge sagas with the inspiring Biblical account. The critics argue that Moshe uses geographic terms which are only meaningful if one had lived in Israel-- e.g. Negba, "to the Negev", for South. They "forget" that Hebrew existed in Israel, among Moshe's ancestors, for generations before Israel descended to Egypt! Hertz notes the lack of any external evidence for the series of non-existent authors and irresponsible redactors, which must result from the so-called Analysis of Sources. "The plurality of sources is ASSUMED by the Critics as an indisputable fact", complains Naville. "The text must adjust itself to their conceptions!"
THE BEGINNINGS OF ENDS: Circular reasoning indeed often lies behind so-called "scientific" study of Bible-- FIRST a basic act of secular faith is postulated-- that the Torah is not the unified work of God; the critics then seek only its normal human literary characteristics, rather than God's Revelation and Inspiration. This leads to criticism of those passages which do not fit this most limited definition; this, in turn, is used to reinforce the original act of blind faith, that the Torah is a mishmash composite of ancient folk traditions. The very passages criticized, however, may bear the deepest meaning-- every nuance in the Torah is the inspiring word of God. ZPG advocates, such as Paul Ehrlich, were lucky that their parents did not share their aversion to childbirth; "scientific" scholars of Judaism are similarly fortunate that their ancestors had a totally different vision; otherwise there would be no Judaism today, to provide these people with a pleasant and good living!
Jewish tradition and University Jewish scholarship might interface, to their mutual benefit, by alloting some of the huge unused luxurious floor space at universities, e.g. H.U., to poor kollels, without decent quarters; the head of H.U. Overseas Students barred kind Jewish outreach activist Jeff Seidel from its posh campus, when he wanted to bring shalach manos gifts to its students last Purim. Should H.U. and T.A.U. be supported by friends and adherants of Judaism, in light of their persecution of Seidel?-- he just tries to give their students traditional Jewish experiences, often free. Are the Overseas Students officials involved simply defending their turf against outsiders, who have greater impact on the students? Do they feel a need to control them (Jeff is uncontrollable). Are they afraid that the students will decide to become observant Jews or attend yeshivot?
Hoffman's insight, connecting the two parts of Leviticus, negates Dr. J. Milgrom's non-traditional view (in the heretical E.J.), that Chs. 18-20 were originally independent scrolls; Jewish tradition rests on a unified Pentateuch, given by God (see our Vayakhel-Pkudei study). Hertz (p. 554) notes that there's not a shred of evidence of any separate Priestly Code or P document; but many academic theologians, some of whom I met at a fine stimulating confab at the Shalom Hartman Institute, where Jews and non-Jews shared their experience of David's Psalms, just take it for granted-- this is a politically correct position in their circles, where clear definitive beliefs and Divine legislation just aren't fashionable these days.
Indeed, exponents of Wellhausen's Documentary Theory, advancing the Pentateuch 1000 years to Ezra, indulge in circular reasoning-- they arbitrarily dismiss any verses which contradict their assumption, calling them forgeries, later glosses, or altered texts! The setting of Vayikkra-- between Sinai and Israel (e.g. 18:3)-- and many references to Exodus as a freshly remembered event confirm the Mosaic Date. Everyone is clustered in tents about the portable Sanctuary in a non-Babylonian desert setting. The cohanim are still called Aharon's sons in Vayikra. ALL ISRAEL came to their inauguration (Lev. 8:3). Linguistic and legal elements in the Pentateuch predate Ezra by many centuries; of course, its language, vocabulary, and style differ in legal, narrative and poetic sections-- God's infinitely multi-faceted in His writing style.
Besides viewing Ezra as a forger, these Critics suggest a ridiculous scenerio-- that a people would suddenly accept a most difficult complex legal code, ostensibly given by Moses centuries before. Many non-religious Jews (see Nehemia) would scream bloody murder (cf. the "Who's a Jew?" issue). The Book itself says it's not to be changed (Deut. 13:1)! Vested interests would be upset by such changes, e.g. re tithes. The obsolete mishkan wouldn't be given so much space in a Babylonian book, while ignoring the Beit Hamikdash. Hertz describes the Critics' Theory of the Evolution of Sacrifice: "Theories are vast soap bubbles, with which grownup children of learning amuse themselves, while the ignorant public stand gazing on and dignify these vagaries (e.g. the Documentary Hypothesis) by the name of Science"; their alleged evolutionary chain is topsy-turvey and based on false analogies to nature, where the more complex is assumed to come later. Claims that the sense of sin was unknown before Ezra, or that the Codes sought to kill joy, are Critical killjoy Fantasies.
Jewish Bible critics may unconsciously seek escape from its awesome imperatives, e.g. YOU SHALL BE HOLY FOR I GOD YOUR LORD AM HOLY (19:25), and from the staggering demands upon God's kingdom of cohanim- it's so hard to be a Jew! (you can't even hug another's wife sensually, e.g. social dancing). They couldn't even dine comfortably with their international academic cxollegues, nor participate in many Shabbat events abroad, should God's Torah be true. Likewise, it's often harder for Jews than non-Jews to appreciate their parents, who "sacrifice" their Jewish progeny on the altar of the very high standards and heavy burdens of Judaism.
But TRULY TRADITIONAL BIBLE EXPLORATION (not CRITICISM) seeks to better understand the Word of God, rather than to deny its Divine authenticity, importance, and unity. It is indeed unclear whether the Torah was given gradually during the desert trek, book after book, or at once. Some rabbis thought that Moshe authored Job and The Book of Bilaam, that Joshua authored his book and the last 8 verses of the Torah, Samuel his book, Judges, and Ruth; David wrote Psalms in consultation with 10 elders; Jeremiah wrote his book, Kings, and Lamantations; Hezekiah & Co. edited Isaiah, Proverbs, Song of Songs, and Ecclesiasties. The men of the Great Assembly produced Ezekial, the 12 Minor Prophets, Daniel, and Esther. Ezra wrote his book and part of Chronicles, completed by Nechemia (B.B. 15a). Eliezer and Pinchas completed Joshua after Joshua's death, as did Gad and Natan with Samuel. Some rabbis said that Job lived in the time of Achashvarus, others that he was a mythical figure. The talmud discusses chronology of the prophets and the composition of the Writings in B.B. 14b-- the order of the Writings there is Ruth, Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ecc., S. of S., Lam., Daniel, Esther, Ezra, and Chronicles.
The Bible, the O.T. (Only Testament, Tanach) as Gaul, is divided into 3 parts (and levels of holiness?)-- Torah, Prophets, and Writings (Torah, Neviim, and K'suvim; see Shab. 16:1; Meg. 7a and Jer. Meg. 1:8 imply that the 5 Megillot may be considered an addition; see E.J. 4:822). Meg. 31 distinguishes between Dvarim, originally spoken by Moshe, then certified and canonized by God, and the other 4 books of the Torah, originally spoken by God Himself. So Yehoshua Perez extracts from the Torah only those passages where God quotes Himself- "and God said..., etc." (The Sayings of God, Aaronson, Introd. by YF); in our portion, its Ex. 40:2-15. The superior holiness of the 10 Statements was deemphasized by the rabbis, after heretics used them to replace the rest of the Torah (Ber. 12a-- Rashi). The Torah was deposited in the ark (Deut. 31:26), to be checked if anyone attempted to distort the text (Deut. Raba 9:4); R. Yanai claims that Moshe wrote a copy for each tribe. After the destruction of the 1st Beit Hamikdash, the ark was hidden; Torah scrolls were then made from 3 master copies, the majority followed where they differed (Sofrim 6:4). Their accuracy was preserved 99.9+% to this day; only a few insignificant letters distinguish Ashkenazi and Sefardi Torahs, a few more the Yemenite scrolls. Shlomo Mallen has raised interesting questions on our traditional masoretic Torahs and Tefillin, claiming Karite influence via the Aleppo Codex.
D. A SYNOPSIS OF PARSHAT VAYIKRA
HE CALLED TO MOSHE AND GOD ADDRESSED HIM (no one else heard) FROM THE TENT OF MEETING SAYING: "CHARGE THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL AND SAY TO THEM: `WHEN ANY MAN (even a non-Jew) SACRIFICES (Singular, Literally: DRAWS NEAR) FROM YOU A KORBAN TO GOD, YOU (Plural) SHALL BRING YOUR KORBAN FROM DOMESTIC ANIMALS OF THE HERD OR THE FLOCK'"-- YOU, plural, teaches that livestock korbonot may also be brought by partners, or by the community; birds can't be brought by the community-- perhaps they're reserved for poor individuals (Hirsch-- mnemonic: poverty is "for the birds"); only DOMESTIC kosher animals, whose image is closest to man, may be brought as vicarious self-sacrifices (tho some wild animals, e.g. deer and giraffes, are indeed kosher). The Torah stresses that God CALLS to Moshe-- he didn't deliver God's word in a self-induced trance or ecstatic state, as did Bilaam and his successor gurus (cf. The Lotus and the Jew-- Kaminetz). Moshe's message came from God, "FACE TO FACE", AS A MAN SPEAKS TO HIS FRIEND (Ex. 33:11).
THINK TO FEEL: Rashi stresses that seemingly dry high tech ritualistic Vayikra opens with a broad soul stirring message. The first phrase: "HE CALLED (VAYIKRA) TO MOSHE" seems superfluous-- "GOD ADDRESSED HIM..." follows immediately, with the content of the address; but we aren't told just what God first called out! Yet VAYIKRA is the reading's first meaningful key word, thus the most common Hebrew name for Leviticus, perhaps indicitive or descriptive of its essence and content; the similar first word of Numbers, VAYIDABAR (HE SPOKE), doesn't become its name! We find "HE CALLED" at Sinai (Ex. 19:3), but with a specific message to Israel. Before that, however, we read: ...THE LORD CALLED TO HIM FROM THE BUSH AND SAID: "MOSHE, MOSHE" (Ex. 3:4); as here, He called out to Moshe BEFORE giving him any specific message. God gets attention with one call; the doubling of Moshe's name serves the other function of repetition-- to show love for another's name, unique personality, that the encounter is NOT just chance or a functional "business" transaction.
EVERY Divine communication to Jewish prophets was preceded by such a call of love (Sifra; cf. a parent's "orders" to his children). But this applies only to complete sections (e.g. Chs. 1-4; Rashi); subsections just give the reader intervals for reflection, a model for all future students-- digest one meal before having another. STOP, LOOK, AND LISTEN every Shabat before going forward in life's brief path. An "open" subsection, with greater space, needs more time for reflection than a closed one (Rav M. Weinberg). Information must be integrated with one's own unique background and personality (we tend to ignore information which is not relevant to our development at the moment, per Rav Chayim Lifshitz).
God's call of love precedes His message; so we should first approach others as people, not just functionaries (e.g. the plumber, the rabbi, etc.; see our Gesher film Partzufim). On the other hand, work must get done and shouldn't be interrupted by pleasantries. We too should chat a moment with the electrician, before and after his work-- but not in the middle, the "subsections". A civilized workplace and workpace must allow for it! Rav Gedalia Koenig, Z"L, started his classes by greeting each student. So Shamai(!) teaches: RECEIVE EVERYONE PLEASANTLY (Avot 1:15). D. Viscott (HOW TO LIVE WITH ANOTHER PERSON, P.92) recommends repeatedly using another's name when conversing, even more so when arguing! When you call him by name, recognize his uniqueness, that moment is more real. One's then less likely to project one's own lack of self-satisfaction upon another. Using first names intensifies our sense of another's personhood. Until recently, east European Jews didn't have last names.
Some extreme charedim respond to the opposite sex with just rude grunts or a curt word; obsessively fearing sexual involvement, they violate basic Torah norms of human dignity and interaction. Some such folks seem to spend all day thinking about how not to think about sex, reciting special psalms, etc. Yet we're warned not to overdo chatter even with our own wives, a fortiori with those of others (Avot 1:5). May married people have "platonic" relationships with the opposite sex? Will this help them avoid the sometimes difficult task of relating to their own spouses? Women, in the traditional Jewish marriage ceremony, sanctify themselves for life to helping their husbands develop their Divine Image potential-- Avigayil diminishes her own divinity, becoming Avigal (losing a letter, "yod", of God's Name), when she just asks Divine David to "remember her" (I Samuel 25:31-2)-- while she's still Nauseating Naval's wife (Radak, from Meg. 14b, B.K. 92b, Jer. San. 2:3, Mid. Samuel 23:12).
DETAILS: The OLAH, "going up" totally burnt offering (plural "olos"), has no stated purpose. Names of the korbonot, e.g. peace and sin offerings, indicate the offeror's motivation, not the fate of the animal; "olah" doesn't refer to the animal going up in smoke, but to the elevation of the offeror thereby (Hirsch). An unblemished male animal is voluntarily brought to the mishkan entrance and accepted AS ATONEMENT, when the offeror presses his hands upon its head. After ritual slaughter in the mishkan courtyard (outside), the cohan dashes the blood on 2 corners of the copper altar, so that it reaches all 4 sides. It is flayed, butchered, and placed on the wood on the fire on the altar (by the cohanim). The inner organs and legs are washed first; it becomes a completely burnt fire offering to God, of pleasing or appeasing fragrance (cf. Gen. 8:21). Slaughtering on the north side of the altar is specified for the flock. Mature turtle doves and young domesticated doves are alternative olot. The cohan slaughters them with a long fingernail, but the head mustn't be completely severed. Sefer Hachinuch guesses that a headless bird would further embarrass the poor donor, who can't afford a more impressive korbon. After draining the blood (on one corner), the head (some say the whole bird) was burnt on the altar. Some parts were cast onto the ash pile EAST (cf. Eden) of the altar.
SOUL FOOD: IF A SOUL (2:1) brings a meal-offering (usually a very poor man's sole soul gift), he must use top grade wheat meal, with olive oil and frankincense. The cohan burns the latter with a handful of the meal and oil, keeping the rest (unless it's the offering of a male cohan); it's holy of holies among the fire-offerings. Meal and oil offerings could also be baked, pan fried, and deep fried; no leavened or sweetened dough could be used (unlike first-fruit offerings). Salt must accompany animal and meal offerings. The first grain offerings (an omer of barley meal) were of fresh ripe kernels, roasted and ground, with oil and frankincense; they were dealt with as the meal offerings.
PEACE OFFERINGS, not connected to sin, follow. These animals, male OR FEMALE, are slaughtered at the tent entrance. Only the kidneys, certain fat, and other parts over the liver, are burnt to God, after or upon the olah. If it's a sheep, the broad tail is also burnt. This internal fat is only for the altar and may not be eaten, as blood, forever and everywhere. Next come SIN OFFERINGS. The High Priest's non-intentional sin, which would involve excision if intentional, brings guilt to his people; he brings a 2-3 year old bull. It's like the olah, but its blood is sprinkled TOWARD the partition veil 7 times; some blood is placed on the gold incense altar (INSIDE the mishkan), the rest spilled at the base of the altar of korbanot. The remains, after burning the same parts as in the peace-offering, aren't consumed, but burnt OUTSIDE the camp, on the ritually pure ash pile.
If the Sanhedrin errs, 3 members place their hands on the head of the communal bull, to achieve communal atonement. It's treated as the High Priest did with his bull. If the king's the sinner, a male goat is brought, in similar fashion to the olah; the cohan places blood on the altar's horns and spills the rest at its base. Portions burnt are as those of the peace offering. Commoners' sins require a FEMALE GOAT for expiation, treated as the male goat of the king, OF APPEASING FRAGRANCE TO GOD. If a sheep is chosen for expiation, the tail is also burnt. The remainder of a sin offering is eaten by the cohan; likewise, tho the peace offering is consumed by the owner, the breast and right thigh are the cohan's. But these priestly perogatives are not mentioned until next week's reading, Parshat Tsav.
A sin-offering is also due for certain acts, even if done knowingly-- not testifying (tho under oath), becoming ritually unclean and then eating something sanctified, going into a sanctified area (forgetting one's impurity), and the ignoring of a verbal oath, due to ignorance of the penalty. The sinner confesses over his korbon. If he can't, IN THESE CASES, afford a sheep, he may bring 2 birds-- one an olah and one a sin-offering, which is processed first (one makes up with God before giving Him a present, and rectifies his actions before working on the purity of his thoughts, which may automatically follow proper action!). If he can't afford 2 birds, he brings 1/10 ephah of stark wheat meal, without oil or frankincense; a handful is burnt on the altar; the rest is for the cohen.
The guilt-offering, ASHAM, is brought for inadvertent profane use of sacred property. It's a ram, worth at least 2 shekels; he must also give the cohan the value of the misappropriated article, plus 20% for atonement. For a questionable violation, entailing a sin offering, a guilt-offering ram is brought as above (asham toloi). There's a special law for one who denied money owed another via an oath, e.g. regarding a pledge, wages, deposit, or unjust deprivation of rights. This is called "a trespass against God" (Who witnessed the transaction!-- R. Akiva); he pays back that wrongly taken, plus 20%, and brings a ram offering. God forgives him; but he obtains atonement only AFTER he's confessed, repaid what he owed, and brought his fine and korbon-- cf. modern barbaric penal systems!
E. THE HAFTARA: ISAIAH 43
Isaiah proclaims that Israel's prayer and repentance can bring them back to God, replacing korbonot, which can't be brought in exile; korbanot are worthless, a disgrace to God's Name, WHEN they're not used to return to God. So God addresses "observant" Jews, who persecute others-- MY SOUL HATES YOUR HOLIDAYS AND NEW MOONS. I CANNOT BEAR SIN AND ASSEMBLY (Isaiah 1). Christian missionaries ignore this, when they equate atonement with blood sacrifices; they also ignore God's strong warnings against human sacrifice, from the Akada to the Molech cults.
F. SOME ??
LET'S PAUSE AND REFLECT (as Moshe above), opening up our minds and hearts! Contemplate the emphasized words. Little children began their Torah study with abstract detailed Leviticus I, seemingly remote from our concerns and souls-- "LET PURE (little) ONES COME AND BE OCCUPIED WITH PURITY" (Gen. Raba 7:3). Isn't Genesis better? Is this "educating a child in his own way"? (Prov. 22; see Midot 22, Kid. 30a, Sukka 42a). How do YOU feel about animal sacrifice? Why is this an invalid ? ? Does modern man believe in it? Should people do boring things, e.g. brushing their teeth and checking their auto's oil?
G. SOME RESPONSES TO THE ??--
We can't evaluate the korbonot experience, as we haven't sacrificed animals and can't do so today. Samaritan and other sacrifices are not from God's Torah, and thus are not comparable. Traditional sources (e.g. the Marei Cohen prayer) testify that it was an awesome, inspiring and elevating experience-- WHEN DONE RIGHT. Modern man sacrifices animals for Mac Donald's burgers, Guccis, and belts, but isn't open to doing so to get close to God. The difficult mishkan and korbonot regulations haven't been applicable for 1900 years. Legal codes (except Rambam's) omit them. Yet God and the rabbis urged us to be immersed in their study. We should be prepared to practice them, when Meshiach will come and the Beit Hamikdash be redone-- see Ezekial 40ff; we daily hope and pray, that it happen right away, yet we are also ready to wait, should it be a later date. Also, God's Words contain great spiritual and educational benefit, even when they can't be put into effect presently (see Hirsch on the stubborn and rebellious son). When studied well and deeply, all sorts of messages, relevant to other realms and self-understanding, emerge.
Precisely defined laws of korbanot, dealing with tangible physical entities, e.g. cows, goats and livers, are easier for little children to learn than the complex human situations and basic issues, beyond their conceptual powers, in Genesis and Exodus (Rav C. Lifshitz, one of my fellow interviewees in Shalom Freedman's "In the Service of God). Vayikra's laws of korbanot also teach tots to focus on precise detail, abstraction, and objective reality, rather than stressing highs and emotional subjectivity in learning and religious experience (cf. R. Feuerstein's work, improving Sephardi IQ by focusing on cool abstraction, rather than warm affect); if the world, modeled on the Torah, is a world of science, one would expect the Torah to have an equivalent system of abstract concepts, precise detail and logic, by which one tunes into Divinity. But the rabbinic reason given for 1st grade study of Vayikra is that PURE little kids should study the PURE subject of korbonot. Tots give blase jaded adults a sense of joy and wholesomeness. Shoshana R. claims that children have innocent faith, devoid of adult sophisticated skepticism; they can better accept such mysterious PURE transcendantal realms. Some say that the tiny letter alef in the first word of Leviticus, Vayikra, hints that children should start their reading of alef-bet with this book. The Zohar claims that the diminished alef teaches that even a call of God cannot really be complete in desert exile, only in Israel (so God tells Avram, who waited so long to hear from Him, to wait a little longer, until he reaches the Holy Land; why was there no little alef in the tale of God's revelation at the diaspora's burning bush?).
H. SPECIAL HAFTAROS, READ WITH PARSHAT VAYIKRA
SHABAT HAGADOL'S HAFTARA IS MALACHI 3:4-24; his theme is Israel's restoration and return to God's moral and religious law: AND THE MEAL OFFERINGS OF JUDAH AND JERUSALEM WILL BE SWEET TO GOD, AS DAYS OF ETERNITY AND FORMER YEARS... LO, I'LL SEND YOU ELIYAHU THE PROPHET BEFORE THE COMING OF GOD'S AWESOME AND GREAT DAY. HE'LL TURN THE HEARTS OF FATHERS BACK TO THEIR SONS (first) AND (then) SONS' HEARTS BACK TO THEIR FATHERS.... Per Rav B. Zolti z"l, parent-child relations are most complex, if only Eliyahu can resolve them! We take a big step forward with the child-sensitive Hagadah! God judges world grain harvests on Pesach; their blessing is linked to Israel's tithes in our reading (Y. Emden)-- God brings forth bread from "The Land" (Israel), not "the earth", per the Vilna Gaon; so prayers ascend to heaven via the holy Temple Mount, whose true history and nature is being eradicated by its Moslem occupiers-- not even a sign tells of its glorious Jewish history.
HAFTARAT HACHODESH-- When Shabat Vayikra precedes or is Rosh Chodesh Nissan, we read Ex. 12:1-20, about beginning the holiday calendar from Nissan, the month of Exodus, Passover, and its subsequent commemoration; if it is Rosh Chodesh, we also read Num. 28:9-15, the detailed korbonot of Shabat and Rosh Chodesh. The haftara is Ezek. 45:16- 46:15, which discusses the respective contributions of the princes and the people to the Temple service, as well as the annual purification of the altar, done, as recital of the annual blessing over newly blossoming fruit trees, from 1 Nissan-- see our Pesach study.
I. SACRIFICES TODAY (from Lilmod U'Lelamed B'Shabbat)
We must study korbonot, tho foreign to our religious experience for almost 2000 years. Over 700 years ago, Rambam introduced his laws of Kodashim: "I find it necessary to elaborate on korbanot (because) through our sinful neglect... nobody pays attention to it... nobody shows interest, nobody asks, nobody researches... In this subject the scholar is no wiser than the ignorant; most students don't even understand the verses in the Torah about korbanot."
SACRIFICES-- PRO & CON
RAMBAM (Guide 3:32, 46) views korbanot as an alien form of worship, for which God gave special dispensation... as the only mode of worship experienced by captive Israel was the Egyptian sacrificial system. The Jews had no experience in relating to, or communicating with, an Invisible God (we've studied the nation's repeated, stubborn insistence upon relating to Moshe or a tangible surrogate, rather than directly to God-- cf. statues and frescos in churches). "It's impossible to go from one extreme to the other", says Rambam; "the nature of man will not allow him to suddenly discontinue everything to which he's been accustomed" (cf. Toeffler's FUTURE SHOCK, suddenly celibate returnees, and Noachide Christians, who gradually leave Jesus for the One abstract God). Suppose this Shabbat we're told to go outside and spin around and around until we fall from exhaustion, instead of davening musaf! We wouldn't only be dizzy, nauseous and feel ridiculous, but wouldn't achieve a spiritual experience. Yet Sufi Whirling Dervishes have done so for centuries, successfully attaining peak mystical experience in the process.
Rambam also posits that one can't radically change a known mode of worship and expect it to be an effective spiritual event. So it was necessary to use the same forms of worship, but to transfer the "object" of worship to God-- cf. Chanuka bushes, Yom Haatzmaut liturgy. Thus animals would now be sacrificed only to God and an altar built only for Him. Incense would be burned only to God; all religious acts would be devoted exclusively to his service (tho some, e.g. pillars and trees, have become so contaminated by their idolatrous associations, that they are banned in His service; what's the difference?-- YF). So God led Israel on an indirect route, lest they meet battle and run, frightened, back to Egypt (Ex. 13:17). A slave nation couldn't become brave soldiers at once (Per Rambam, korbonot also demonstrated that DOMESTIC animals, held sacred by Egyptians, Sabeans, and Hindus, were to be killed for God).
Besides, continues Rambam, korbonot and Temple ritual were not the primary end of worship-- prayer, supplication and obedience were. Laws of ritual impurity were to keep non-Levite folks from hanging about the Beit Hamikdash, rather than doing their work (cf. the beggers at the Wall). The mishkan itself is but a means to a moral and ethical lifestyle. Prophets often criticize korbanot-- Jeremia states that God didn't command them when the Jews first left Egypt (7:22). They're only a technique to achieve higher consciousness, but otherwise counterproductive. Many wrongly infer that once prayer provides a direct relationship between God and Israel, the need for korbonot is obviated and the korban system can be disposed of as an atavism (The Reform and Conservative position). Rambam refuted such inference at the end of his Code: "The Mashiach will arise in the future and restore the kingship of the House of David... he will build again the sanctuary... korbonot will again be offered...". For whatever God's reasons, says Rambam, the korbanot system became part of the Torah and Mitzvot, and we remain completely committed to its detailed observance for all times.
AKADAT YITZCHAK (Isaac Arama, Spain, 15th Cent.) offers and rejects 4 explanations for korbanot! Perhaps they're bribes to God the King, to either ask for favors or appease His Anger for sins-- nonsense! There's no "gift" a human can give to God, Who "owns" the world and all in it; God's not moved by bribery, a perversion of justice. These notions are the basis of pagan sacrifices, explicitly forbidden. God's only influenced by the degree to which our actions are congruent with His Will and our own innermost holy souls. Perhaps korbanot are punishments or fines for our misbehavior and disobedience, tho God gets nothing out of them-- Arama also rejects this: a fine must be in proportion to the offence; how can one assess an offence against God? Also the wealthy would hardly be "punished" by losing a lamb or goat, with no deterrent effect (compare the effect of parking tickets on owners of BMW's and Fiat 127's)
Consider this next: the sacrifical system is a means of providing food to the landless jobless Kohanim and their families! But it's inconceivable that cohanim would only enjoy their daily food if others sin (but not all korbanot are sin offerings-- YF). It would also be more efficient to simply levy a tax, similar to the system which supports the Levites. Finally, sacrifice may be a cathartic expression of violence!-- Arama refuses to respond to this tasteless suggestion (cf. Talmudic views that a would-be murderer may wind up a shochet)! Arama himself, as Ramban, views a korban as a "token" fine, a symbolic punishment. The person who sacrifices identifies with the animals, and experiences the animal's body as his own. As he witnesses the animal's sacrifice and consumption on the altar, he realizes he deserves to have his own blood spilled, his body consumed. So the animal is "punished" in his stead; by this dramatic enactment, the sinner, in empathy, is moved to regret his misdeeds and avert sin in the future (does he view all korbanot as sin-based?).
D.I.F.'s (DIVINE INTIMACY FACILITATORS) or SACRIFICES?: Hirsch rejects the translations of SACRIFICE or OFFERING for korban. The word does not denote my SACRIFICING, giving something up, to appease an angry God, nor even my OFFERING a gift to Him. Its connotation, rather, is "that which brings man close (karov) to God". The totality of the sacrificial rite, done right, brings man into His presence. THUS THE NAME ELOKIM, LORD OF NATURE AND JUDGEMENT, IS NEVER USED RE THE D.I.F.'s-- ONLY HASHEM, GOD OF MERCY. NO ONE SHOULD THINK THAT KORBONOT ARE TO PLACATE HIS WRATH. In Tsav, we'll see how this dynamic works.
SACRIFICES: TO SUBLIMATE OR RE-CREATE? The korbanot sublimate primal animal drives to God and higher development; now, without a Beit Hamikdash, we further sublimate-- "Our lips shall pay for cows (Hosea 14:3)" teaches that prayer substitutes for the intense atoning experience of korbonot, at least until the Beit Hamikdash is restored. Another interpretation is that LEARNING ABOUT korbonot is TANTAMOUNT to performing them in mindset and soulset. Indeed, Rav J. B. Soloveichik PREFERED learning about korbonot to performing them! Philosophers and Misnagdic scholars usually value abstraction over physical and emotional experience. Many of those in Chassidic and Sephardic circles are more into emotions and body sensuality-- they await and anticipate real gutsy korbonot (but ascetic abstract kabbalist Ramban does too!). So we pray (in Nishmat): "...THE LIMBS WHICH YOU HAVE DISPERSED WITHIN US, AND THE SPIRIT AND SOUL WHICH YOU'VE BREATHED INTO OUR NOSTRILS, AND THE TONGUE WHICH YOU'VE PLACED IN OUR MOUTHS-- BEHOLD THEY'LL PRAISE AND BLESS..." We conclude (David, Ps. 35): "ALL MY BONES SHALL SAY: `GOD, YOU'RE BEYOND COMPARE'".
Rav Yochanan views devoted scholars as tho they burnt and presented offerings to God's name (pure offerings, IF they marry BEFORE studying-- Men. 110a). Nighttime scholars are reckoned as performing temple service; for those who study laws of the Temple service, it's as tho the Beit Hamikdash were built in their days. Resh Lakish views one occupied with study of Torah as offering burnt, meal, sin, and guilt korbonot; Raba says he doesn't need them! Per Rav Yitzchak, anyone occupied with study of sin and guilt offerings is as tho he brought them (so reciting the laws of korbanot is RECOMMENDED-- not compulsory-- before AM prayers).
THE OTHER SIDE: Russell J. Hendel compares the physical side of the Man-God relationship, korbonot, with the physical component of the ideal human relationship, Male-Female (MAIMONIDES' ATTITUDE TOWARD SACRIFICE, Tradition, 1973, published by RCA, his Master's voice). The House of Holiness is compared to the marital bed, whose dual purpose is relaxation and reproduction; so we're to enjoy Divine bliss in the sanctuary, and spread its holiness thruout the world (Yom Kippur, when sexual relations are prohibited, is the peak of closeness to God via korbonot-- cf. the Theophany at Sinai and Divine contact as a remedy for loneliness, supra). Korbanot are equated with kisses and caresses, the incense with perfume. "... the talmud will sometimes assume the equation, without explicitly stating it" (he cites Song of Songs Raba I, 2:1, 16:3 and San. 7a). In BOTH relationships, the ultimate goal is true love and commitment, a SPIRITUAL state; however, the respective PHYSICAL means may be indispensible for flesh-and-blood to fully achieve it. Hendel asks-- are korbonot an ideal state of Divine relation (per Ramban), or a concession to human weakness (per Rambam)? Is incense perfume (Ramban), or just a mask for the odor of burnt offerings (Rambam)?
Handel's conclusion-- Rambam didn't reject his own earlier writings, prescribing prayer for restoration of the Beit Hamikdash and korbonot; the Torah itself calls korbonot A SWEET SPIRIT TO GOD; he stressed their prophylactic function only to appease alienated philosophers. Their philosophical limitations could not contain positive concepts of korbanot; he wrote the Guide to bring them back to Torah *. Per Ramban, Rambam didn't have to write against korbonot to influence others; he claims that his own positive view of korbonot will grip the masses, as Aggadic tales of the rabbis, which both entertain and teach great lessons. So Sefer Hachinuch often picks a rationale for mitzvos which will appeal to his teenage readers, tho not satisfying adults. Hirsch also criticizes Rambam's apologetics for distorting the true meaning of korbonot; he based much of his own explanation of Torah on Hegal, tho stressing God's Torah, not human society, as the ultimate source of norms.
* YF: In fact, Rambam wrote the Guide in 1190, in response to the queries of his skeptical, curious, and impatient favorite disciple-- poet, philospher and "gadol" Yusuf ben Yehuda Ibn Sham'un, originally of Morocco, who "leaked" it to the general public. But Stiskin, supra, claims, as is generally accepted, that it was written for Yosef Ibn Aknin (p. 74). In 1185, Yusuf left the Rambam and Egypt and moved to Syria, where he became a successful travelling merchant. As his mentor, he became a court physician, to Saladin's son, king of Aleppo; he defended Rambam from charedi attacks, and tried to placate his arch-enemy, the Gaon Samuel ben Ali of Bagdad. He emphatically rejected the then prevalent notion of "sphere spirits", celestial beings personally responsible for moving a particular sphere, to which a planet, the sun or the moon were supposed to be attached-- Rambam and the author of the Shabbat prayer, E-l Adon, believed in them. The poet Al-Harizi, who visited Aleppo in 1218, called him a "mighty rabbi in the West, who was anointed by God as a prophet in the East"-- from Dear Maimonides-- A Discourse on Religion and Science ($30 from TOP), a fascinating recent speculation by Andrew Sanders, of Toronto and Haifa; he depicts Yusuf writing a series of letters to Rambam, showing him how the world has changed, and how little they really knew back in the bad old days, after he was miraculously transported to late 20th century North America! Sanders denies the close bond of Rambam and Ibn Aknin, whom, he claims, was confused with Ibn Sham'un.
After much deliberation over the radical differences between the world he has left behind and the one he now occupies, Yusef confesses: "... it is my secret desire that, by being able to see the world from two vantage points, those of the 12th and 20th centuries, I may be able to extrapolate the progress of the last 8 centuries into the future, many centuries or millennia into the future; and, having done so, look back from there at the primitive early ages, both yours and my current one." By developing a new worldview that incorporates the teachings of both the ancient and the modern Jew, Yusef provides a clear conception of humanity's role as God's creation, and of the role the Jewish people play as a light unto nations, and as leaders toward the messianic age.
Rav Yehuda Henkin: Man, from Cain and Abel to today, feels a need to give something back to God. Per Rambam, God provided for this need via individual and communal "gift sacrifices". Ramban sees the animal sacrifices as a substitute for sinful man, who deserved death, but for the grace of God, i.e. sin and guilt offerings. But they're only brought for negligent, not willful, sin-- should one die for such sins? Henkin, a tough rabbi, like Moshe, says "yes"!-- forgetting or carelessness itself shows lack of concern for, and focus upon, God's word. Indeed, an error involving God's natural laws, e.g. falling off a cliff, is fatal regardless of intent; laws of the Torah are of equal impact. Also sin engenders sin, once the psychological threshhold has been crossed; fortunately, God provides redemption via prayer and sacrifice, enabling man's return to life.
RAV A. Y. KOOK, however, argued that animal sacrifice would NOT be restored in the 3rd Beit Hamikdash-- only "the meal offering of Judah and Jerusalem, as sweet to God as in the (good) old days..." (Mal. 3:4; Olat R'iyah 292**)-- "They'll no longer do evil or destroy anything in the entire mountain of My holiness, because the knowledge of the Lord will fill the land...". Even animals will be able to approach God on their own, not as passive korbonot. Rav Shlomo Riskin sees Rav Kook's vision as teaching that the essence of sacrifice is not the savoury smell of burning meat, but the trembling sincerity of the human heart. He also explains the majority view-- that korbanot provide a broad overview of the vagaries of life and methods of overcoming pitfalls, trials, and tribulations. Occasionally, they are even a way of celebrating. He shows the experiential dimension of each type of korban, e.g. the olah, whose message is that we owe the very fibre of our being to God and must dedicate our lives entirely to His service; Yitzchak is called a "whole burnt offering", the model of total commitment to God. At festivals, the olah contains a message of renewed dedication and devotion at the turning points of life. If modern Jews would look more carefully at korbonot, they'd discover a treasure of ethical teaching.
** but, per Rav Y. Hadari and Rav E. Blumenthal, Rav Kook refers only to the much later future world, not to the 3rd Beit Hamikdash-- see his Mishpat Cohen on the 3rd Beit Hamikdash.
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