Friday, March 26, 2010

Tzav 5770

We're told that the asham - guilt offering, and the chatat - sin offering, are presented in the same area as the olah - heavenly ascendant offering. Why is this the way that the place is described? G-d has neither cowardly nor deceptive motives (unlike us humans) and is much more than capable of saying things straight. So why doesn't the line in the Torah simply read - "Slaughter the chatat and the asham, on the northern corner of the mizbeach," rather than describing their locations in relation to the olah?

The Kli Yakar says these korbanot are all offered in the same spot in order to circumvent embarrassment. Someone who brought a korban for a mistake he made (asham, chatat) would probably be experiencing discomfort, even turmoil. The last thing a person needs at this difficult time is to have others seeing him in the sin section and gossiping about him ("look who's bringing a chatat…you'll never believe… I thought he was frum…")

By putting the olah - which is an optional offering that isn't necessarily brought due to sin - and the chatat, and asham together in the same space, the Torah is decreasing the obviousness of why someone is there, thus allowing an individual to remain clean in the eyes of peers. The phrasing of the text makes it clear that these karbanot are placed where they are in order to be sensitive to the needs of the one who brings a korban and to protect him from the insensitivity of others. Phil Chernofsky points out in connection with this idea that one reason for why we daven Shmoneh Esrei quietly is so that no-one hears the confessions and private wounds of his friend. How sensitive to people's feelings G-d is and wishes for us to be.

Rav Shlomo Yosef Zevin observes that while the conception developed above focuses on the perception of others, there is another viewpoint, developed by the Rebbe of Sokotchov which is more concerned with the makriv - one offering the sacrifice himself: The Chachamim say (Vayikra Rabbah 7:3) that the olah comes to atone for inappropriate thoughts. (That the olah comes as a rectification of thought related sins is also made clear from Iyov 1:5, in which Iyov brings olot corresponding to the number of his children, as he wonders if his sons have erred by cursing G-d in their hearts.) The word "tzafon" - Hebrew for north - comes from the shoresh - root "tzfafun," meaning hidden, because this direction is hidden from the sun. The olah, which addresses internal, thought oriented sins, is appropriately brought in the area most associated with the hidden.

Friday, March 5, 2010

KI TISA - Understanding the Cheit HaEigel

"They exchanged their honor for that of a cow eating grass". This is how Dovid HaMelech sums up Cheit HaEigel (Tehilim 106:20). Wouldn't it be more accurate to say that they exchanged His honor, rather than "their honor"? The Ralbag writes that G-d's honor is being referred to, but it is respectfully referenced euphemistically. Rav Nissan Alpert suggests a different approach which explains this reference to their exchanged honor. His approach also answers the question of why Chazal state that Parah Adumah is Kaparah for the Cheit Ha'Eigel. This in turn clarifies why it is appropriate to read Parshat Parah together with Parshat Ki Tissa, andthe story of the cheit ha’eigel.

The Jewish People at the time of the Cheit HaEigel were the Dor Deah - uniquely intelligent and sophisticated people. Thus, constructing the eigel must have been the subject of intense and profound debate . Rabbi Alpert suggests that the argument was as follows: The people who favored making the eigel wanted it to serve as a metaphor of the true nature of man, representing the fact that man is essentially an animal. They said that Moshe had lifted them up from their physical nature, but in his absence it was time to return to being what they really were - no different than a cow, eating to live and living to eat (this is implied by Shmot32:1 in which they refer to Moshe not simply as the one who took them out of Egypt, but as the man who raised them from Egypt - "Moshe, Ha'Ish Asher HE'ELITANU Mei'Eretz Mitzrayim.") Those who opposed the construction of the eigel felt strongly that man is primarily spiritual in nature and that it was therefore wrong to suggest the cow as a symbol of the essence of man. This explains why Dovid described the Cheit HaEigel as the time when Jews exchanged their honor for that of a cow eating grass.

There are various levels of tum'ah . The lowest level of ritual impurity, the avi avot hatumah, is a dead human being. The reason why the human corpse ranks lower than anything, including the carcass of an animal, is that a man's only real value rests in his soul. A dead cow can be utilized in many ways, but a dead man serves no real physical value. The Para Aduma comes to purify the lowest form of impurity - acquired through contact with a dead human being, and acceptance of these laws is reflective of an understanding that man's essence is his soul. This is why Chazal tell us that the Para Aduma is kapara for the Cheit HaEigel, the biggest mistake the Jewish People ever made. This is why we read Parshat Parah along with Parshat Ki Tissa.

May G-d help us all to remember - in the most painless way possible - that our essence is our souls.