Friday, March 18, 2011

A Thought on the Parsha

The beginning of parashat Tzav seems like almost an exact repeat of the beginning of parashat Vayikra.  Each parasha deals with the details and rituals of the different korbanot, and Tzav winds up seeming like merely a repeat of Vayikra.  However, closer examination shows that while they deal with the same topics, they approach them from different perspectives.  Vayikra begins:  "Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: If a person from among you offers a sacrifice to God..."  (Vayikra 1:2) Tzav, however, begins as follows: "Command Aharon and his sons saying: This is the law of the olah..."  (Vayikra 6:2)

While Vayikra is addressed to the Children of Israel, to the person who is bringing the sacrifice, Tzav is addressed to the children of Aharon, the Kohanim who are offering the sacrifices.  This different perspective explains why the two parshiyot are not redundant.   There are, by necessity, different directions to those who bring the sacrifices than to those who offer the sacrifices.  Thus, each audience is given their own set of directions.

When we look closely at the two parshiyot in an attempt to identify these differences, a number of things stand out.  First, the order is different.  In Vayikra the order of sacrifices is: olah (burnt offering), mincha (flour offering), shlamim (peace offering), chatat (sin offering), asham (guilt offering).   In Tzav, in contrast, the order is: olah, mincha, chatat, asham, shlamim.  The explanation for the different orders is now obvious:  what is most significant depends on whom is being addressed.     

In Vayikra we are dealing with the owner's perspective, the first list.  From this perspective, what matters most is what korban they are most likely to give and most interested in giving.  Now, the owner's primary motivation for bringing a korban is, as we discussed last week, to give something meaningful to God.  This is first an olah, a freely offered animal, and then a mincha, a freely offered flour offering.   The olah was more significant, because animals cost more, owners probably had a more personal connection to their animals than to their grain,  and perhaps most significantly because animals could serve to represent the very life of the owner, whereas a mincha only represented their food or their property.  Also, an olah was fully consumed on the altar, that is - symbolically given to God - whereas most of the mincha was eaten by the Kohanim, representatives of God, certainly, but still only representatives.

Next on the Vayikra list is the shlamim (peace or wellbeing offering)This was also freely given, but less of a full gift to God. The shelamim was shared between God and the owners.  The blood was put on the altar and the entrails were burnt, but the meat was eaten by the owners (with a portion given to the Kohanim).  While everyone gets something, it is lower on the list, either reflecting the owners' hierarchy of what he or she normally is most interested in giving, or the Torah's hierarchy of what he or she should prioritize in his giving.  Better to give a full gift than a shared gift.   Last on the list, of course, are the sin offerings.  Clearly, the owner would rather not be in those circumstances that obligate him or her to bring these offerings.

The list in Tzav, however, reflects the concerns of the Kohanim.  Olah and mincha still appear at the top, since those are the primary form of sacrifices.  Let us also remember that the altar is called the mizbach ha'olah, the altar of the burnt offering.  However, once we move beyond these two, the order changes.  The Kohanim's primary interest is their portion in the sacrifices.  The top of this list is the chatat and asham, where they get to eat the entire animal, and only finally the shelamim, where the owner eats the entire animal and they only get a small portion.

The difference in the order of the two lists is just one of the differences between the two parshiyot, and a close reading of the two side-by-side will reveal other differences in emphasis and detail reflecting these two perspectives.  The primary lesson to draw from this is that when we are speaking to an audience - be it giving a lecture, teaching a class, or speaking to our children - the perspective of the listener is key.  What is important to us may be irrelevant to them.  This was a lesson that took time for me to learn as a teacher.   I remember when I was once giving a lunch-and-learn parasha class on the parasha of Bamidbar.  I spent a good 10 minutes discussing the different terms used for describing the directions of the compass in the Torah.  Then, in the middle of one of my erudite comments, a student interrupted me and said, "Rabbi, what does this have to do with my life?"   It is that question, or its appropriate variation, which I strive to address  whenever I am teaching: "Rabbi, what do I care about this material that you are presenting me?" 

Sometimes, of course, the goal is to get them to care.  Even though the Kohanim had no meat from the olah, the Torah is telling them - this is what you must care about first and foremost.  But even then we have to get them to think about how to care, and good teaching is not only getting them to care, but about finding out what a student or child does care about and finding ways to connect to it.  We might have to tell over an entire parasha in a different way if we are addressing one type of class as opposed to another, or one child rather than the other.  Let us strive, in our lives, to always remember that question, "Why do I care?," to remember that what is important to us might not be equally important to the person we are talking to, and to understand that it might be necessary to repeat something in an entirely different way if we want our message to be heard.  Necessary, and - as the Torah shows - well worth the effort.

Shabbat Shalom!

Torah from Our Beit Midrash

This week, the daf yomi made a siyyum on Mesekhet Zevachim.  The following are words I shared at the siyyum, and is adapted from The Daily Daf post: Action and Thought in Korbanot.  They are particularly apropos of this week's parasha.

One of the major themes of Zevachim - and the one that opens mesekhet Menachot as well- is that of intent.  The concepts of shelo li'shma, intending the wrong sacrifice, and pigul, intending to eat it at the wrong time, factor very heavily throughout the mesekhet.  Now, when we look at the verses this is quite surprising, since neither of these concepts is clearly present in the Torah.  The verses that deal with pigul, which appear in this week's parasha (Vayikra 7:18, and also 19:7-8) are, at the pshat level, referring to eating notar, the korban meat after its time:

But the remainder of the meat of the sacrifice on the third day shall be burned with fire.  And if any of the meat of the sacrifice of his peace offerings is eaten at all on the third day, it shall not be accepted, nor shall it be credited to him who offers it; it shall be an abomination, pigul, and the soul who eats of it shall bear his iniquity.
(Vayikra 7:17-18).

According to Hazal, however, these verses refer to thinking about eating the meat at the wrong time, not actually doing so.  Intent is equivalent to action. 

The same emphasis on kavanah, intent, is present in the case of shelo lishma.  The Torah is replete with requirements for the rituals of bringing korbanot, exactly where it is to be slaughtered, what is to be offered, how the blood is put on the altar, how one sacrifice differs from another, and so on.  What is never explicit in the Torah, however, is the need to have proper intent.  The derivations in the Gemara to show that this requirement exists (see Zevachim 4a and 7a) are certainly not pshat of the verses.  Nevertheless, once we have this requirement, its impact is huge.  If a Kohen has the wrong intent, then minimally this prevents the owner from fulfilling his or her obligation, and in the worst cases can fully invalidate the korban.

In contrast, the consequence of doing the rituals incorrectly is not nearly as severe.   Failure to do many of the rituals - not placing the blood on all the corners, not burning the entrails, not doing the tnufah, the waving, not doing the vidduy, the verbal confession, not eating the meat  - does not invalidate the korban and does not even prevent the owner from fulfilling his or her obligation.  In fact, we have a very unusual  hermeneutic principle by kodshim - we require shana alav ha'katuv li'akev -  that the verse repeat a requirement (or use a word such as "chukah") in order for the requirement to be deemed necessary for the validity of the act.   This is never the case by non-kodshim mitzvot.  Normally, we assume that every detail that the  Torah mentions is required for the fulfillment of a mitzvah.  But with sacrifices this is not the case: we assume that the details are not necessary unless the Torah explicitly teaches us that they are.  That is, except for intent.  This detail, learned from a drasha and not from  an explicit verse, is assumed to impact the validity of the korban when not done properly, and a verse  is actually needed to teach that lacking it does not fully invalidate the korban (Zevachim 4b, and Tosafot, s.v. Aima). 

The prioritizing of intent can also be seen by the amount of  mesekhet Zevachim that is devoted to issues of intent, in contradistinction to the amount of the mesekhet that is devoted to the details of the actions.   Considering that the Torah devotes all of its verses to the details of the rituals, this disproportionate treatment certainly stands out.

What is to be learned from the strong emphasis on intent, over and above that of action?  I believe that by internalizing the ritual of korban, Chazal are to a certain extent addressing the critique of the prophets:
... But to this man will I look, to him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembles at my word.  He who kills an ox is as if he slew a man; he who sacrifices a lamb, as if he cut off a dog's neck; he who offers a meal offering, as if he offered swine's blood; he who burns incense, as if he blessed an idol. For they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delights in their abominations.  (Isaiah 66:2-3)

What good are sacrifices if they do not lead to any internal transformation?  If a person does not become closer to God, does not improve his deeds, then the sacrifices are worthless.  As we read in this week's haftorah, when Shmuel criticizes King Shaul for not destroying the flock of Amalek:

"But the people took of the booty, sheep and oxen, the best of the devoted property to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal," [said Saul].
And Samuel said, Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen better than the fat of rams.  (Shmuel I, 15:21-22)

Where is the answer to these questions in all of tractate Zevachim?  I believe that the emphasis on intent, and its greater weight than the actions themselves, is Chazal's answer to this question.  If intent matters so much, and so much more than action, then one will not be led astray to believe that bringing sacrifices and doing the rituals is all there is to drawing close to God.  The sacrifices are not magic, and they do not have an automatic theurgic effect on God.  They are a part of drawing close, and because the issue is drawing close, intent is key.

Consider what Chazal say regarding the mincha: אחד המרבה ואחד הממעיט ובלבד שיכוין לבו לשמים - whether one does a little (i.e., brings a mincha) or one does a lot (i.e., brings an animal sacrifice), what matters most is that one's intent is to heaven (Menachot 110a).  That is - what is the key about sacrifices is the intent, and not the sacrifice itself! 

In a way, what we have here is the internalization of the rituals of the korbanot - the focusing on the inner experience is the first step in transitioning from a world of korbanot to a world of tfillah.  And tfillah is defined by halakha as avoda she'b'lev - service of the heart.  This definition is so far reaching that poskim even wonder if one could fulfill his or her obligation to pray merely by thinking the words, since at its core this is a mitzvah of intent!

Now, although she'lo lishmo is a major concern by sacrifices, there is one place where it is not a concern at all - the learning of Torah and the doing of mitzvot:

Said Rav Yehudah in the name of Rav: "A person should always involve himself in the learning of Torah and the doing of mitzvot, even shelo li'shma, even for the wrong reason, because out of doing it for the wrong reason, one will come to do it for the right reason."  (Pesachim 50b)

Torah and mitzvot are transformative in a way that sacrifices are not.  With sacrifices, the act in itself does not have significance, and, without the right intent, it can even be a source of leading a person into a false perception of his own religiosity.  Sacrifices need the proper intent to be valid.  Not so Torah and mitzvot.  These acts are not mere rituals.  The intellectual-religious engagement that comes through the learning of Torah, and the performance of mitzvot which evoke religious and moral values, are transformative even if done for the wrong reason.  Through doing these powerful acts, one will achieve even the right intent, and they will become fully religious acts, and bring about a strong, deep connection to God.

Happenings at the Yeshiva

This week began with an amazing program sponsored by YCT, JOFA, and Yeshivat Maharat - the second Kallah Teachers Workshop called "Demystifying Sex and Teaching Halakah." We had 18 kallah teachers from the US, England and Israel with us for 3 and a half days, which they spent in intensive and back-to-back classes, learning the halakhot, in a nuanced and detailed way, from original sources, discussed the Jewish approaches to sex, halakhot of sex, learned about sexual function and dysfunction in men and women, and reflected on their own biases regarding different forms of sex and sexual activities.  The goal of the program was to create a more sophisticated, educated cadre of kallah teachers, teachers who understand the halakhic nuances, and who will be able to play a critical role in preparing the kallah not just for her time as a niddah, but for her sexual life as well.    I taught the majority of the halakha classes, including those on the halakhot of sex, and distributed to the participants a large binder of all the relevant materials, with translation, and including supplemental materials.

The is the second cadre of teachers that we have taught, and we know have a wonderful community of 40 kallah teachers who can turn to each other and their instructors from this program for advice, suggestions, and direction.  A big thank you to Batsheva Marcus, who taught the classes on sexuality and was a driving force in bringing this program to fruition; to Rabba Sara Horwitz, who taught the practical end of things, and how to structure a curriculum and classes, and whose brainchild this all was; to Rabbi Yaakov Love, to Dr. Valerie Altmann, Dr. Michael Werner, Ms. Shoshana Bulow, Ms. Devorah Zlochower, and to all the other teachers for giving so freely of their time and expertise.    And, a huge thank you to Pessy Katz who made sure that every single detail was attended to and that the program went so smoothly that everything seemed to flow completely naturally. 

Students continued learning Shabbat and Kashrut, and we had an important chaburah on Monday, led by Seth Winberg, on the topic of dealing with different kashrut standards in the homes of friends, family, and congregants. 

We also had two special Purim learning opportunities.  On Monday, Rav Yehudah Gilad, Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshivat Ma'aleh Gilboa, visited the yeshiva and spoke to the students about the logical problems in the Purim narrative: why did Mordechai emphasize to Esther the offer of money that Haman made to Achashveirosh?  Why did Haman try to appease Esther and not Achashveirosh, who had originally been part of the edict?   He also discussed the different stances of Mordechai - the proud Jew who refuses to bow down, and perhaps is the catalyst for Haman's plan, and Esther, the more submissive Jew, who falls and cries and begs Achashveirosh to relent the decree.  What, he asked is the message here?  That it is better to be submissive?  To this he said that the Megillah is a subtle indictment of galut Jews who stayed in Persia rather than return to build the Beit HaMikdash.  Even the salvation of Purim was not complete - we are still the slaves of Achashveirosh.  When one is in exile, you don't control your own destiny, you never know where or when the next decree will come, and you have to act submissive, like Esther did, if you want to get along with the ruling power.  If one wants to be a proud Jew, like Mordechai, then the place to do so is in the Land of Israel.  It was truly wonderful to have Torah from Eretz Yisrael - in this double sense - and to have Rav Gilad at our yeshiva!

On Thursday, Ta'anit Esther, we had our second opportunity of Purim learning.  Students devoted the morning to studying key sugyot from the first daf of mesekhet Purim, and hearing a shiur on them from Rabbi Katz.  Then, at 11:00 AM, we all went down to Kehilat Jeshurun for a prayer vigil for the Fogel family.   Over 2,000 people attended, and it was a very befitting way to spend this Ta'anit Esther.

Finally, on this Shabbat Zakhor, I wanted to share with you a wonderful drasha of Rav Yehonatan Eibushitz that was pointed out to me by Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller.  This drasha, from יערות דבש, drasha 9 (attached) talks about the need to live up to a universal morality, and to forgo hurt and insult rather than hold on to the hatred.  He then has the following amazing statement (page 8 of the attachment):
ולכן אחיי למדו הטוב מבלי לנטור איבה ואדרבה להיטב לשונאו וכך יפה לפי מידת אנושי ולפי גדר התורה וזהו תפארת ישראל מבלי לנטור איבה וכך יהיה מדותיו מיושרים שבטבע לא ינטור ולא ינקום.  ולכך אמרו חייב אדם לבסומי בפוריא עד דלא ידע וכו' והיינו דישכח לרוב שתייתו מה שצוה התורה ויהיה כפי מדת הטבע ואז לא ידע מה בין ארור המן וכו' כי כפי הטבע אין לנקום ולקלל מבקש רעתו בשום אופן כלל.

Therefore my brothers, learn the good (or "learn well") not to hold on to hatred, rather do the opposite - learn to do good to your enemy.  So it is befitting according to human morality and the fence (ethics) of the Torah, and this is the glory of Israel, not to hold on to hatred.  This way your traits will be in line with nature (or "natural morality"), not to bear a grudge and not to take vengeance.  And thus they said, "A person is obligated to get drunk on Purim until the point that he does not know etc."   That is, that a person should forget, due to the excessiveness of his drinking, what the Torah has commanded [regarding destroying Amalek], and he will then be according to the natural morality, and thus will not know between the cursedness of Haman, etc.  Because according to nature (natural morality), one should never seek vengeance or curse even those who seek to do them evil, under any circumstance.