Thursday, April 21, 2016

Who Invited Matzah?



Feel free to download and print the Pesach sheet and share it with your friends and family.



Who Invited Matzah?

A major part of what makes the Seder evening so powerful is the way in which the symbolic mitzvot—reclining, dipping, drinking four cups of wine, eating the marror and the matzah—bring the Pesach story to life and how the story, in turn, gives depth and meaning to these mitzvot and rituals.

At the center of these mitzvot is the eating of matzah, which, aside from telling the story of Pesach, is the only Biblical mitzvah of the evening. However, there is a story to be told here as well, a story about how matzah came to be understood as a Biblical mitzvah independent of the korban Pesach.

The verses talk of two mitzvot regarding matzah: 1) to eat matzah and marror with the korban Pesach (Shemot 12:8) and 2) to eat matzah for all seven days of Pesach (Shemot 12:8, 13:7). One set of verses implicitly connects these two mitzvot:

You shall therefore sacrifice the Passover to the Lord your God, of the flock and the herd…. You shall eat no chametz with it; seven days shall you eat matzah with it, the bread of affliction; for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste (Devarim 16:2–3).

In these verses, the seven days of eating matzah is connected to the eating of matzah with the korban Pesach: “seven days you shall eat matzah with it,” i.e., with the korban Pesach. Mekhilta of Rabban Shimon ben Yochai (12:18) picks up on this double valence and states that this connection with the korban indicates that the mitzvah of matzah applies only on the night of the korban Pesach, while the framing of “seven days” indicates that it is a mitzvah independent of the korban Pesach. This, then, is the basis of our practice of eating matzah on the Seder night even though there is no korban Pesach.

The Mekhilta bases this practice on a snippet from another verse as well. According to the Mekhilta and the Gemara Pesachim, Shemot 12:18, “In the evening you shall eat matzah,” teaches that there is a separate mitzvah to eat matzah on the Seder night. This is clearly not the simple sense of the verse. The verse refers to eating matzah all seven days: “On the fourteenth of the month in the evening you shall eat matzah until the twenty-first of the month in the evening.” However, by focusing on a few words in the middle, Hazal established the independent identity of the mitzvah of matzah.

It is worth noting that there were those who disagreed, being of the opinion that matzah exists as a mitzvah only together with the korban Pesach. The Gemara (Pesachim 120a) quotes the opinion of Rav Acha bar Yaakov that matzah is only a rabbinic mitzvah in our time, since there is no korban Pesach.

Together with establishing the matzah as an independent mitzvah of the Seder night also came a transformation of the mitzvah of the seven days of eating matzah. This mitzvah, mentioned several times in the Torah, was understood by Hazal to be an option, not an obligation. Indeed, if there were a general obligation to eat matzah all seven days, there would be little need to have a separate mitzvah to eat it that night. Thus, Gemara (Pesachim 120a) quotes a braitta which establishes that there is no mitzvah to eat matzah all seven days and, then, that there is a mitzvah to eat it on the Seder night. We have thus fully collapsed the seven-day mitzvah into a mitzvah of the first night (It should be noted that Vilna Gaon ruled that while not obligated to do so, one fulfils the mitzvah of “seven days you shall eat matzah” by eating matzah at any time over Pesach).

This collapsing of the mitzvah of matzah into the first night is nothing less than the transformation of Chag haMatzot into Chag haPesach. The Torah clearly recognizes two periods: Pesach, the 14th of Nissan, the time of the brining of the korban Pesach (Bamidbar 33:3 and Tosafot Rosh Hashana (13a), s.v. di’akrivu), and Chag haMatzot, the seven day period from the 15th through the 21st of Nissan (Shemot 23:13, 34:10; and Vayikra 23:5–6, which juxtaposes the two). Now, according to the simple sense of the verses, Pesach is celebrated by the bringing of the korban Pesach, and Chag HaMatzot is celebrated by eating matzah all seven days. This exactly parallels Chag haSukkot, which is celebrated by sitting in a sukkah all seven days. Chag haMatzot should therefore have significance independent of the Seder night. But by focusing the mitzvah of matzah on the first night, the focus of the chag becomes the Seder night, and Chag haMatzot is transformed into Pesach.

In this way, too, the korban Pesach has been replaced by the mitzvah of matzah. Thus, whereas in the Torah the mitzvot of the night centered on the korban Pesach, for us the mitzvot of the night—and in particular the other mitzvah d’oraitta of sippur yitziyat mitzrayim, the telling of the story of the Exodus—center around the matzah. Take the statement of Rabban Gamliel in the Mishna (Pesachim 116b) that one who does not say “Pesach, matzah, and marror,” that is, one who does not connect the story to the mitzvot of Pesach, matzah, and marror, does not fulfill his or her obligation. This puts all the mitzvot on equal footing and implicitly highlights the korban Pesach, to which matzah and marror are attached. However, when we say this and explain the significance of these foods today, we do not lift up or even point to the shank bone lest one suspect we are bringing sacrifices outside the Temple (Pesachim 116b). The focus of the Hagaddah and the mitzvah of sippur yitziyat mitzrayim, then, naturally shifts to the mitzvah of matzah.

The Hagaddah’s connection to, and even dependency on, the mitzvah of matzah is expressed halakhically as well. The Gemara (Pesachim 116b) states that the mitzvah of sippur yitziyat mitzrayim is dependent on the mitzvah of matzah. If matzah is Biblical, so is the mitzvah of sippur yitziyat mitzrayim. And if matzah is rabbinic, then there is only a rabbinic mitzvah to say the Hagaddah. This is learned from the verse, “because of this,” “ba’avor zeh.” “‘This,’” says Rava, “means because of matzah and marror.” Any mention of the korban Pesach is notably absent. The mitzvah of the Hagaddah survives because we have connected it to the mitzvah of matzah rather than the mitzvah of the korban Pesach, or in other words, because matzah has taken the place of the korban Pesach. This is made clear in the passage in the Hagaddah (from the Mekhilta):

Perhaps from Rosh Chodesh? The verse teaches, “on that day” (Shemot 13:8). If “on that day,” perhaps from the day before? The verse teaches, “because of this.” “Because of this,” refers only to a time when matzah and marror are present before you.

Why might this mitzvah have begun “the day before”? Because it was the day of the bringing of the korban Pesach. And, indeed, one of the passages of the mitzvah of sippur yitziyat mitzrayim is explicitly connected to the bringing of the korban Pesach (Shemot 12:25–27). Nevertheless, we learn from this verse that the mitzvah of the Hagaddah is linked to the matzah and, thus, is still applicable today. Matzah is the focus, not the korban Pesach.

This focus on matzah and the connection of the Hagaddah to it is made complete by the statement of Shmuel:

Shmuel said: “‘Bread of affliction’” (Devarim 15:3), bread that one says many things over.” We taught similarly: “‘Bread of affliction,’ bread that one says many things over.” Another interpretation: “‘Bread of affliction’; it is written, ‘Poor person,’ what is the manner of a poor person? With a broken piece. Here, too, with a broken piece” (Pesachim 115b).

The matzah is the bread that we say many things over; it is the focal point of the Hagaddah. It is for this reason that we begin the Hagaddah with “ha lachma anya,” “this is the bread of affliction,” this is the bread over which the Hagaddah will be said. [Notice, too, the end of that passage: “yasei vi’yifasch,” “let him come and eat/celebrate the Pesach,” implicitly identifies the matzah with the korban Pesach.] And thus, at yachatz, we break the matzah right before magid, so this bread over which we say the Hagaddah will also be lechem ani, a poor person’s bread, a broken piece of bread.

In the absence of the korban Pesach, the mitzvah of matzah moved to the forefront. It was understood to be independent, and it took the place of the korban Pesach as the centerpiece of the Seder. The entire Hagaddah now revolves around the matzah, the lechem oni/lechem ani. In the absence of the korban Pesach, rather than shifting our attention to the seven days of Chag haMatzot, we have continued to focus our attention on the Seder night, and Chag haMatzot has been transformed into Chag haPesach.

Chag Kasher V’Sameach!


 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Labels Are for Grocery Items, Not People

Feel free to download and print the Parshat Metzorah sheet and share it with your friends and family. 

Labels Are for Grocery Items, Not People

Parashat Metzorah continues to detail the laws of tumah, impurity, that can occur to people and that would require them to maintain their distance from the Mishkan. The parasha opens with the case of the metzorah, the person afflicted with the skin disease of tzara’at, and how he is to become pure: “This shall be the law of the metzorah, the skin-diseased person, on the day of his becoming pure” (Vayikra 14:2). After the discussion of tzara’at, the Torah turns its attention to other people who are impure: the zav, literally the “flow,” a man with an unusual penile emission; a man who had a seminal emission; the niddah, the woman who has menstruated; and the zavah, the woman who has had an irregular flow of blood.

The common denominator of all of these tumaot is that they are not contracted from the outside. Whether the state is a skin disease or some type of flow, it is something that is sourced in the person him or herself. The Gemara refers to these people as those who have tumah yotzei mei’gufo; the tumah emerges from their bodies. This tumah is of less severity than that of touching a corpse, which Kohanim are prohibited from contracting and which requires not just a mikveh, but also the ashes of the red heifer for purification. Nevertheless, the tumah of this week’s parasha is more severe in one important area: it directly defines the status of the person and demands that such a person not enter into to the Levite camp or, after the wilderness period, the Temple Mount. A person with corpse-impurity, by contrast, can go up onto the Temple Mount.

What is the reason behind this greater severity? When tumah comes from the outside, it does not define the person to whom it transfers. A person who touched a corpse is just that: a person who touched a corpse. We do not have a proper noun for such a person; he is only described in terms of what he has done. In contrast, Parashat Metzorah is filled with a cast of characters defined by their status, which reflects their physical state of

being: their flows, their skin, and so on. They are the source of their tumah, and this becomes their identity. Hence, they must keep an even greater distance from the Temple, where the primary concern is not just keeping tamei things out, but more specifically tamei people.

The difference between identity and essential character on the one hand and traits, behaviors, and what the Greek philosophers would call “accidental characteristics” on the other is of great importance. A key principle of education and parenting is to focus on the behavior, not the person: “I know you are a good person, but what you did was wrong” is a healthy parenting technique. “Bad, bad, bad!” yelled with a finger pointing to the child is not. One reinforces the person’s sense of self-esteem and calls on her to live up to her true, inner self. The other leads the child to see herself as bad, and to live up to, or rather down to, that identity.

We often forget this principle when it comes to how we relate to those who are different than we are. Until my children were about ten years old and learned about the Civil Rights Movement in school, they were blissfully unaware that people were categorized as black and white. If asked how their South African babysitter was different from us, they would have—and did!—respond that we had light brown skin and she had dark brown skin. What a wonderful age of innocence! But it makes one wonder, why do we use skin color to categorize people, to define identity? We don’t do so by eye color.

We often take a trait and associate it with a person’s very identity, their very self. This can help us organize our reality, but it can also lead to blatant and subtle forms of generalization and discrimination. My children have special needs, but that doesn’t define them. I do not want them to go through life as, “He is Apserger’s,” or even, “He is autistic.” I want no one—most of all them—to forget that, first and foremost, they are special, unique, wonderful people, people who are so much more than any particular condition. As my wife Devorah Zlochower and I wrote in an article on this topic, “Most importantly, speak to our children and recognize them for the beautiful souls they are. Our children are poets, artists, philosophers, and psychologists; their emotional and spiritual lives are deep and intense ones.” When people meet one of my sons, they need to see Kasriel or Netanel; if all they can see is “special needs,” then they are not seeing them at all.

When we realize how easy it is for us to take a trait and turn it into an identity, and we then turn back to this week’s parasha, we will discover that we have done the same to the people described therein. It is true that the Torah gives a proper name to the one with tzara’at; he is a metzorah. That case is, however, the exception, and ironically, the name is applied only when he is in the process of leaving that state. Such labeling is clearly not used for the other people mentioned in the parasha. The man with an irregular flow is ha-zav, which could be translated as “the Flow-er” or “the Emitter.” But the majority of translations do not take this approach, instead understanding the word zav as a descriptor rather than a name and translating it as “the man who has a flow.”

This insistence on describing rather than labeling is even clearer in the other cases. The man with the seminal emission is not, as he is in Rabbinic literature, a ba’al keri, “an Ejaculant,” he is instead one “asher teizei mimenu shikhvat zera,” one who has experienced a seminal emission (Vayikra 15:16). The woman who menstruates is only a niddah, “a Flow-er” or a menstruant in Rabbinic literature; in the Torah, she is a woman who is “bi’nidattah,” “experiencing her flow” (15:20). The woman with an irregular flow is not a zavah as she is in Rabbinic literature; she is a woman who is “in her flow” (15:26, 28).

All of these people are described, not named. This makes all the difference. Because the tumah occurs to them directly, they own it more, and they are more distanced from the Mikdash. And yet, the fullness of their identity does not have to be and should not be reduced to this status. And the status may not even be a bad one. It may be a natural occurrence, and in the case of the menstrual flow and the seminal emission, it is part of the human capacity to create new life. But who wants to be reduced to any status, even a neutral one?
As humans it is easier for us to assign labels and categorize; it helps us organize the world around us. This is why the Rabbis have given names to all of them, why they have given us this colorful cast of characters. They had halakha to discuss, and it would have been unwieldy to constantly refer to “the man who has a flow,” or “the woman who is in the midst of her menstruation,” rather than simply as “the zav,” or “the niddah.” And it is easier to conceptualize halakhic categories and rules in reference to people who are named, categorized, and assigned a particular identity.

This might be somewhat necessary in legal texts, but it is dangerous at the human level. When dealing with people, labeling is reductionist and dehumanizing. The Torah’s careful use of descriptors rather than labels reminds us that we should think of these individuals as people, people with special conditions, people with disabilities, but not disabled people. These are states of being; they are not who the person is.

When we recognize the humanity and the irreducible nature of the person, we allow them to transcend any state or limitation. All these people can become tahor because we refuse to box them in and define them by these states. We recognize their humanity, their essence, their innate purity, and this allows them to undergo the process of taharah, purification, that will allow them to regain this state of being. By never losing sight of the unique and irreducible tzelem E-lohim of the other, by refusing to reduce a person to certain states, characteristics, conditions, or generalizations, we help protect that tzelem E-lohim. We help to bring all of us one step closer to entering the Mikdash and to living in a world in which we experience the Godliness of each individual.

Shabbat Shalom!


Thursday, April 7, 2016

Are Patients Still People?

Feel free to download and print the Parshat Tazria sheet and share it with your friends and family.


Are Patients Still People?

The Torah spends a great deal of time addressing the phenomenon of tzara’at, spots on the skin that can render a person ritually impure. A person with such a spot needs to have it inspected by a kohen to determine if it is indeed tzara’at, and if it meets certain criteria, the kohen will declare the person impure.

In contrast to the active role of the kohen, the person with the spot is described in fully passive terms. Indeed, a close reading of the verses shows them to have been reduced to an object of scrutiny for the kohen. Consider: “A person, when there is on his skin a spot….shall be brought to Aharon the kohen or one of his sons the kohanim” (Vayikra 13:2). The person here is not a subject, a person with a condition, but rather, the object upon which the spot appeared. The person is also not choosing to go to the kohen or even going himself. He is rather brought by some unnamed others to the kohen. He—or perhaps just his skin or just the spot—is a thing to be brought to the kohen for the kohen’s scrutiny.

This objectification continues in the next verse: “v’ra’ahu HaKohen vi’ti’mei oto,” “and the kohen will see it/him and impurify it/him” (13:3). What or who is being seen and declared impure? The grammar is unclear: it could be that the kohen is seeing the spot and declaring it impure, or seeing the person and declaring him impure, or seeing the spot and declaring the person impure. All of these possibilities exist in various English translations. The message, however, is the same: at this stage the person and his spot are more or less interchangeable. He is his condition, and that is how he is being seen by the kohen.

This implicit framing runs throughout the parasha. The person is always brought to the kohen, never coming on his own (see 13:9, 18), and the kohen is always looking at the spot, not at the person. The only time the person appears active, even if ever so briefly, is in verse 13:16: “If the healthy flesh once again turns to white, then he shall come to the kohen….and the kohen will purify the spot, he is pure.” When there is a chance of recovery, of no longer being a patient, the person becomes an actor and approaches the kohen on his own.

What the Torah is describing here is a sad, if perhaps necessary, consequence of the doctor-patient relationship. For a doctor to be fully objective in carefully weighing the evidence in front of her, she has to bracket the humanity of the person. She has to objectify the patient and focus on the symptoms as they present themselves in order to render the best medical judgment. Medical research as we understand it would be unthinkable without objectification. It is a necessary, professional standard of good science. The alternative—drifting in a sea of anecdotes—would yield few useful results.

That’s the positive side, but objectification is no fun at the receiving end. How many small indignities do people suffer as soon as they go to a hospital, having small pieces of their identity stripped away? Patients suddenly stop being “Mr. So-and-so,” “Mrs. So-and-so,” or “Dr. So-and-so” and become Jon, Ellen, and Fred while the doctors retain their professional identities and titles. 

In the past, this sort of objectification has even led to real abuses.  As one writer explains:

…pregnant women in early-twentieth-century Germany were….paraded naked in front of a whole auditorium full of observers while in labor. American obstetrics was no better: Women were strapped down while in labor and knocked out, whether they wanted it or not.

In a similar, but less extreme way, the person with tzara’at is objectified. He loses his personhood, becomes an object, is subject to procedures and requirements that are placed on him, and only regains his humanity when he starts to become pure.

His return to personhood is brought out strikingly when one compares the end of Parashat Tazria to the beginning of Metzorah. Tazria ends: “This is the law of the spot of tzara’at;” it is the laws of spots, not of people (13:59). In contrast, Metzorah opens: “This is the law of the metzorah on the day that he becomes pure” (14:2). No longer are we dealing with the spot, the disease, but rather with the metzorah, the person. Here he is beginning to become better, to regain his agency, but for the time being he still remains in current, disempowered state.  The same verse thus goes on to say, “and he shall be brought to the kohen.”  This changes once the kohen determines that he has been healed.  At this stage, the person becomes a full actor: “And the kohen shall command to take for the one who is purifying himself…” (14:5). He is not being purified; he is purifying himself. And finally, “And the one who is purifying himself shall launder his clothes, and shall shave his hair, and shall bathe in water, and shall be pure, and then he shall come into the camp” (14:8). He has once again become a person and an actor, and is now actively involved in his recovery and reentry into society.

The Torah is describing the somewhat inevitable objectification that occurs in a patient-doctor relationship. But can this situation be rectified? Can we retain the objectification necessary for good medicine and good science without losing the humanity of the person in the process? In contemporary medicine, there have been some improvements in this area. According to one observer from within the medical field:

Over the past 40 years, under pressure from consumer advocates, feminists, and [others], medical researchers and practicing doctors have become a lot more sensitive to problems of objectifying patients. Patients with cancer are no longer kept ignorant of their diagnosis and prognosis. These days, expectant mothers are often encouraged to write birth plans….One index of objectification is condescension….[and] personally, I’ve seen a major decline in patronizing attitudes among medical practitioners.

I personally have witnessed such a move towards greater respect for the patient. When I was recently visited my aunt in the hospital, I noted that rather than presuming to call her by her first name, the first nurse to welcome her to the room asked her how she wanted to be referred to, and put that information on a whiteboard in her room for all to see.

A similar restoring of personhood of the metzorah can be found in Hazal. For example, Hazal state that, because of the mitzvah, “Guard yourself regarding the spot of tzara’at” (Devarim 24:8), a person is not allowed to cut off a spot that might be tzara'at and is required to show it to a kohen (Makkot 22a). This directive to the person which tzara’at, how he may or may not act, transforms him into an agent in the process. The person is now the one bringing himself to the kohen.

Even more strikingly, the Rabbis interpret the verse, “On the day it will be shown to the kohen” (Vayikra 13:14) as follows: “There are days that he (the kohen) may see and days he may not see. From here they said: A groom who has a spot is given the seven days of the wedding feast [before he has to show it to the kohen]….And similarly, during a festival, he is given the seven days of the festival” (Moed Katan 7b). This person is recognized to not be just a patient. He has an entire life that exists outside of the clinical context, and the kohen has to be sensitive to this reality, to the person in front of him, before he can decide how or whether to proceed. In parallel, doctors listen better, inquire more, contextualize more, and are able to render better diagnoses when they see the full person in front of them and not just the condition.

We can learn a lot from this necessary balancing act, even in contexts other than the doctor-patient relationship. There are times when it is our task to give critical feedback and an honest assessment of someone or their work. But we can never forget the humanity of the person, that we are dealing with an actor and an agent, and that we must engage that person as such, even in our most professional and objective mode.

This is particularly crucial if a person is ill.  At such a time, the illness and hospitalization themselves can do a lot to rob a person of her agency and self-sufficiency, and any objectification by doctors and nurses will only reinforce and deepen this loss of personhood.  This is why bikkur cholim is such an important mitzvah – it serves to restore the dignity and humanity of the patient.  And it is the regaining and retaining of that humanity that can allow true recovery to begin.


Shabbat shalom!

Friday, April 1, 2016

Have You Done Your Korban Pesach Yet?

Feel free to download and print the Parshat Shmini sheet and share it with your friends and family.


Have You Done Your Korban Pesach Yet?

Parashat Parah commemorates the process of purification that would precede the bringing of the korban Pesach. Appropriately, this year we read it at the end of Parashat Shmini, which describes how, after the completion of the dedication of the altar, the sacrifices would henceforth be desired and received in Heaven: "And there came a fire out from before the Lord, and consumed upon the altar the burnt offering and the fat: which when all the people saw, they shouted, and fell on their faces" (Vayikra 9:24). We are thus reminded that the best we can do today is evoke the memory of the korbanot and of the korban Pesach; we are unable to bring them in practice or to do the ideal worship described in the Torah.

Things however are not so black and white. There are those who petition the Israeli government regularly for the right to bring the korban Pesach on the Temple mount. From a halakhic point of view - political realities aside - this is not as absurd as it may sound.

Let us start with the theme of Parashat Parah, the need for ritual purification. Although we are all considered to be temei met, impure due to contact with a corpse (or being under the same roof with one, as often occurs in a hospital), this is overridden for a communal sacrifice: tumah hutra bi'tzibbur, communal impurity is set aside for communal sacrifices. While the korban Pesach is brought by all individuals, not by the community as a corporate entity, and is, therefore, not technically a community sacrifice, it nevertheless has this status. As the Gemara Yoma (51a) tells us, it is ba bi'knufya, it comes en masse, with every individual of the Jewish people bringing it together.

But what about the fact that there is no Temple? This also need not be a halakhic barrier. The Gemara in Megillah (10a) states that the sanctity of Jerusalem and the Temple from the time of Joshua still remains today. The same Gemara goes on to quote Rabbi Yehoshua who states that, as a result of this sanctity, it is possible to offer sacrifices on the Temple grounds even without a Temple: "shamati she'makrivim af al pi she'eyn bayit," "I have heard that one can offer sacrifices even without a Temple."  So while we are ritually impure and without a Temple, it would seem that sacrifices can still be offered.

As far as the kohanim are concerned, the general halakhic approach is that kohanim nowadays are only bichezkat kohanim. That is, they are presumed to be kohanim, but this is not taken as a certainty since their exact lineage is unknown (see Rema YD 331:19, Maharit 1:85, and Shevet HaLevi 3:160). While we would ideally want definite kohanim to serve in the Beit HaMikdash, without certain knowledge we should be able to rely on the presumption, as we do in other areas of halakha. We also don't have the bigdei kehunah, the priestly garments, but these could be manufactured (and Mechon haMikdash has already done so!). Because of the materials needed, it would be impossible to construct the garments of the High Priest, but this is not a problem since sacrifices can be offered without the High Priest. Thus, with the manufacture of the proper bigdei kehunah, it would seem that our kohanim could halakhically offer the korban Pesach.

All of these arguments were made by Hatam Sofer in a teshuva (YD 2:236), and he concludes that a korban Pesach can be brought halakhically in modern times. Although written in nineteenth-century Hungary, this responsa was not merely addressing a theoretical question, for he had been asked to appeal to the political leader of Jerusalem to grant Jews this right. He stated that this would not be possible, as the political leadership would only grant Muslims the right of worship on the Temple Mount.

In the following generation, Rav Tzvi Hirsch Kalisher, a student of Hatam Sofer, tried to make this theory a reality. Rav Kalisher wrote an entire book, Drishat Tzion, where he argues for the obligation to bring a korban Pesach and tries to put this at the top of the communal agenda. There was a larger historical context for Rav Kalisher's initiative: It coincided with the beginning of the Reform movement, and high on their agenda was the rejection of the significance of the Land of Israel and the return to the Land of Israel. This naturally included the rejection of the whole institution of sacrifices. It was thus important for Rav Kalisher to reassert the centrality of the Land of Israel, the Temple, and the sacrifices.

Rav Kalisher, hoping to get other rabbis to sign on to his initiative, sent his book to another staunch opponent of the Reform movement, Rav Yaakov Ettlinger in Altona, Germany, for his approval. Rav Ettlinger did not sign on, and in response (Teshuvot Binyan Tzion, 1), he offered a surprising counter-text to the passage in the Talmud stating that one can bring sacrifices without a Temple. He quotes the Biblical verse, "And I will lay waste your Sanctuaries, and I will not smell the pleasing odor of the sacrifices" (Vayikra 26:31). According to Rav Ettlinger, this verse tells us that, although the Sanctuary retains its sanctity even after its destruction and one can technically still bring sacrifices, God does not desire such sacrifices. These would not be considered li'rayach nichoach, as a sweet savor, and it is a halakhic principle that a sacrifice that is not considered li'rayach nichoach is invalid. In an astounding move in a halakhic, Torah she'b'al Peh argument, Rav Ettlinger asserts, "although the Talmud says that one can still bring sacrifices, God states: 'I will not smell their pleasing odor'!" God trumps the Talmud!

But what about the statement that sacrifices can still be brought? Rav Ettlinger answers that this only applies when God is no longer "laying waste to the Sanctuary." Thus one can bring sacrifices when the Temple is being built but has not yet been completed, as in the beginning of the Second Commonwealth or as will be in Messianic times. But as long as the Temple is laid waste, God is telling us that God does not want our sacrifices.

Rav Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin - the Netziv - endorsed Rav Ettlinger's general approach, but disagreed with him in regards to the korban Pesach (HaAmek Davar, Devarim 16:3). Netziv argues that the korban Pesach can still be brought nowadays because it is the only sacrifice that is not described in the Torah as being offered li'rayach nichoach. It thus makes no difference that God will not accept it as a sweet savor - it is valid without this!

This insight points to a unique feature of the korban Pesach: it is the one sacrifice that is not brought primarily to be offered on the altar but to be eaten. This is evidenced in the fact that all other sacrifices that can be offered in cases of communal impurity, can nevertheless not be eaten in a state of impurity, with the exception of the korban Pesach: "for it is only brought at the outset for the sake of being eaten" (Mishna Pesachim 76b). Remember, also, that there was no altar for the first korban Pesach, only the doorposts of the houses on which the blood was placed. The key verse for this korban is, "and they shall eat the meat on that night" (Shemot 12:8). The focus is on the home ritual, on the eating of the meat, and not on the offering of the korban. As such, argues Netziv, it can be done today, as there is no need for it to be considered li'rayach nichoach.

There are many people who live in the tension between Rav Ettlinger and the Netziv. On the one hand, they find it hard to identify with the offering of sacrifices as something that God desires, but on the other, they sense that something is religiously lacking from our less embodied, less physical forms of worship. The Godly connection and religious community created through the shared eating of the korban Pesach is echoed today in the Pesach Seder in our homes, but the echo is a faint one. Even when sacrifices are no longer part of our religious worship of God, it is our duty to find ways in which we can continue to live a powerful, embodied religious and communal life so that all of our service should be li'rayach nichoach, received as a sweet savor, by God.


Shabbat Shalom!