Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Vayikra
To dedicate this lesson

Ego & Elections


Rabbi Stewart Weiss

This week we begin a new Sefer – Vayikra, or Sefer HaKohanim – which deals primarily with the ritual of korbanot (offerings, or sacrifices). There is perhaps no other subject in the Torah that is so mysterious or misunderstood - not to mention politically incorrect! Just the very thought of killing massive numbers of animals, gutting them, sprinkling their blood then burning or eating them, sends shivers down liberal spines. And yet, this subject takes up a huge amount of space in our holy Torah.

So what is the deeper message being transmitted here, through the medium of the korbanot?

The Rambam offers 2 reasons for bringing the korbanot: One is that korbanot were a means of weaning the Jewish nation from the then-prevalent cult of idolatry. But this reason is rejected by the Ramban & others, who remind us that korbanot preceded idolatry, as indicated
by the fact that Noach & even the family of Adam – the very first human – brought offerings to G-d!

So Maimonides suggests another idea: Animals were among the things which were worshipped by the nations (e.g. the sheep by ancient Egypt, or cows which are worshipped even today in India) & so bringing an animal for a korban indicates the superiority of Man over the animal kingdom!

Nachmanides counters with his approach: He says that when one offers up an animal, it is as if he himself deserves to die for his sins, but the animal is being sacrificed in his place (just as a ram was offered up by Avraham at the Akeida, in place of his son Yitzchak). This should
give the person bringing the offering great pause, as he realizes that he is culpable for his actions & should serve to humble him before G-d.

And so we have these twin, seemingly opposite emotions at work: Hubris & Humility. A person, on the one hand, must recognize that he is Hashem’s greatest creation, a marvelous creature endowed with a holy neshama, far above the animal kingdom. At the same time, we are
always at G-d’s mercy, a frail & fragile being who sins, & must appeal for Divine clemency & compassion.

This, I suggest, should be the posture of the newly-elected (or re-elected) Knesset. Appreciate the fact that you have been elevated to one of the highest positions in the entire world, the leadership of the Jewish People, that you are now a Chosen among the Chosen. At the same
time, do not let it go to your head; do not believe that you are above review or reproach. While we hope you will not become a korban, be prepared to sacrifice for the nation & to offer all your many talents to its diverse citizens.

Good luck – you will need it!
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