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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Vayikra

Mother Knows Best

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"If/when you bring the first-grain offering to Hashem…."

Uh, what do you mean, "If/when?!" Make up your mind, please; is it "If?" or is it, "When?" After all, the two words are certainly not the same; one is optional, the other is obligatory! So which definition is the one that fits our pasuk?

Well, that is exactly Rashi’s point when he comments on the Hebrew word, "Im." Normally, he says, it would be translated as, "if." But on some rare occasions, the same word means "when." Such as in the verse, "Im – WHEN you will lend money to a fellow Jew in need…." No ifs, ands, or buts; you HAVE to help him. It’s just a question of when.

And here, too, in our pasuk, the Torah tells us that we must bring certain korbanot, whether we like it or not.

But hold on a second. I was always taught that "sacrifice" was a very bad translation of the word "korban." Because "sacrifice" implies that I am giving up something (usually money!) that I would much rather not part with. A better translation (and certainly a more "PC" one!) would be "offering," which has the connotation of something I do willingly, out of choice, in order to get closer to Hashem.

So how, then, can I be forced to do something willingly?! It’s a contradiction in terms!

Let’s try to unravel this riddle by taking our time-machine back to the beginning of humanity. Kayin brings a korban to G-d; but being that it is inferior, Hashem rejects it, & Kayin goes berserk. What was Kayin thinking?

Kayin said to himself, "Why does Almighty G-d need my offering; He has everything & wants for nothing! So I may as well not use up the best of my produce; I’ll just bring a simple, token bit of flax." But Hashem is not happy. Of course, it's true that He doesn’t need the offering; but He DOES want Kayin to give his utmost, to try his hardest, to excel in sharing. To learn to be a giver, & not only a taker.

And so it is with the whole concept of offerings – today represented by prayer. G-d demands that we bring offerings & that we pray, but not for His benefit. Ultimately it is we who are the recipients of the offerings we present, of those prayers we utter. And because G-d, the supreme parent, wants the best for us, He must sometimes make us do that which is right & in the end rewarding for us.

Perhaps that is why the word, "Im" has the same Hebrew letters as "Aym – mother." G-d, the Mother of all life, knows best!
Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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