Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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4 Nissan 5761 - March 28, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
" . . . That I Commanded and My Will Was Done"

by L. Jungerman

Parshas Vayikro, which begins to deal, as we know, with the sacrifices, is related to the haftorah of Parshas Zochor, which in leap years is concurrent, as it was last year. There we hear the pained words of Shmuel Hanovi: "Does Hashem desire the burnt offering and sacrifices more than obeying the word of Hashem? See here: obedience is more important than a good sacrifice, heeding preferred to the fat of rams." These words serve as an excellent introduction to the Book of Sacrifices, to wit: It is not the sacrifice which is the main thing, but the spiritual fragrance that accompanies it, the fact that I commanded and My will was done.

And it shall come to pass that when Israel sins, Hashem will say: Wherefore do I need a plenitude of your sacrifices? I shall lay waste your temple and I will not inhale the fragrance of your incense. For if the fragrance that billows up and rises upward in a column is not accompanied with a preference to the heeding of the word of Hashem, then the entire ritual of sacrifice is emptied of its content and meaning. And then -- Hashem will lay waste. When the wicked Titus comes to destroy the Altar, a Heavenly voice will resound, announcing: Milled flour have you milled.

It is incumbent upon us to also understand that the sacrifices are necessary and have meaning which only their execution can convey. The sacrifices are not merely an expression of Hashem's will, as the Ramban and Rabbenu Bechaye write: "The Torah obligates a person to bring a sacrifice for his sin and to place his hands upon the animal in atonement for his deed, and to confess verbally, to atone for the sinful speech, and to burn the vessel of council and of thought that were privy to the sin -- which are the innards and the kidneys, representing these aspects of meditated intent. Only in this manner are the three aspects of the evil deed atoned for. Actually, it is proper that the sacrificial blood be sprinkled upon the Mizbeiach in lieu of his own blood. And when all of these phases are carried out, the person shall think in his heart that he should really have been punished by death for his sin, through the four manners of the judicial death sentence, which are: stoning, burning, death by sword and asphyxiation. It is his blood that should have been spilled like the blood of the sacrifice; his body that be immolated like that of the sacrifice and so on. But Hashem accepted the animal in his place, as his atonement. This is complete kindness provided by Hashem: in His infinite mercy, Hashem is prepared to receive the animal life-spirit in place of his own soul, and provide him with atonement."

Why must the novi stress that obedience is preferable to a fat sacrifice; listening better than the fat of rams? Does it not stand to reason that without doing the will of Hashem, there is no value to mere sacrifices?

The answer is that the latter is just as important as the former. Both are necessary: to obey Hashem as He has stipulated, and to perform the commandments according to their halachic requirements. And similarly, why is the fragrance that rises up from a proper sacrifice so pleasing - - that I commanded and My will was done? Is not the execution of Hashem's will a very broad spectrum of deeds that includes all of the commandments, and certainly the special fragrance that wafts up from the sacrifices?

The Ran poses a similar question in his work: How can we understand the Torah's injunction that we obey the Sanhedrin even if they rule "upon right that is left?" If we assume that the very essence of prohibitions is merely to obey the command of Hashem, how do we reconcile the contradiction that when Hashem commands us to heed the words of the Sages despite the fact that they might be in error, we might truly be guilty of eating something that is forbidden -- and not be doing anything wrong since we did not disobey the commandment of Hashem. For in that case, Hashem required us to heed the Sages, which is what we did.

But it is not so, argues the Ran. The prohibitions involving eating are not merely blank dictates of the A-mighty for us to obey; the Torah determines that forbidden foods are detrimental to the Jewish soul. And this being true, if we did partake of forbidden food by relying on the Sanhedrin which mistakenly ruled that "right was left," how can we not come to spiritual harm? If a sick man relies on an expert physician -- and he makes a fatal error -- will he not die, anyway?

The eleventh drosho in the work deals with this question: "One must examine this at a basic level and see if the premise is valid that all the commandments of the Torah are arbitrary. Are they all a mere blanket expression of the will of Hashem, without having intrinsic, logical and necessary value and basis of their own? If this is the case, then no specific thing has inherent impurity or sanctity, but everything rests upon what the sages of a particular generation established for those times. And if we abide by the sages' rulings, no spiritual harm can come to us.

"But we do not maintain this. Rather, we believe that whatever the Torah prohibited is truly detrimental to us and leaves a harmful imprint on our souls, whether we understand the reason behind it or not. And if we do maintain this, how do we reconcile the case where the sages rule that something impure is pure? Shall the faulty prescription of a doctor cause a harmful drug to become beneficial? Does not the impure thing have an intrinsic harm to it by its very nature? How can this essential nature change just because the sages deem that it is permissible -- when it really isn't?"

He provides a very fundamental reply. "True, whatever is forbidden is virtually harmful and bitter to the Jewish soul, but only because Hashem commanded us not to eat these foods. But the very moment that the Torah relegates authority to the Sanhedrin and commands us to rely upon them to do "whatever they direct," then even if we ascertain that they did err and caused us to eat forbidden food, these edibles will do us no harm; they lose their negativity. Their harmful elements simply vanish, leaving them neutral. In the end, all ultimately depends upon the commandment of the Torah.

"And I maintain," he writes, "that it is impossible for a soul to come to harm through a [false] decision of the Sanhedrin, even if they permit eating something that is truly forbidden. This is because the tikkun that comes to the soul by the very act of obeying the sages who are invested with the instruction and interpretation of Torah is the most beloved thing in the eyes of Hashem. As it is written, `For obedience is preferable to a goodly sacrifice.' And through this tikkun of obeying the sages, the element which could have brought harm to a person by his eating it on his own, vanishes, dissipates. Thus, even if the Sanhedrin rules mistakenly, permitting something that should have been forbidden, if a Jew abides by their counsel and relies on them, his soul will be protected from any harmful results that might have ensued had he eaten without their specific sanction. This is why the Torah specifically stated: You shall not veer from the thing that they shall tell you, right and left."

How marvelous it is to see that the Ran bases his words on the verse of the Parshas Zochor Haftorah: "For see that obedience is preferable to a good sacrifice." He indicates the answer to our very question. True: sacrifices have a special noble, esoteric purpose, yet they are subservient to "I commanded and My will was done." That is what counts, ultimately, and what determines the spirit and essence of every thing.

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