Thursday, March 26, 2009
I've Been Smiling Lately...
As the previous yeshiva period ended yesterday, I had all the time in the world to do whatever I wanted today. Luckily, today was one of the nicest days since I've been in Israel. Everywhere there was sunshine, people out on the streets, and a cool breeze blowing across the city. Times like these, where I can just wander around with my thoughts and Yerushalayim, make me realize how special this city is. Everything has as many sides are there are eyes to see them. Being here, I've seen Israel with both of mine: an irreligious occupier on the one hand, and a strangely happy place, full of life and energy on the other. However, I can never quite place what it is about Israel that brings people back. One might say the history, or the religious significance, but those are really just for tourists and extremists in the West Bank. All I can say about Israel is that it is full of life. It is full of life in a way that America isn't. Perhaps that is the result of living a life where people on all (not both, there is never simple duality) sides of the conflict face death, but it infuses Israel with something that is palpable. Author Jack Kerouac once said, "The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars...and everybody goes 'Awww!'" If he wanted to find a place like the person he was seeking, Israel would certainly be that place. Holiness can be felt in the air.
In this week's parsha, we begin to read about the korbanos (offerings) that are to be brought in the beis hamikdash (temple). Today, as I sat in the Old City, looking out on the sight where the temple once stood and korbanos were offered, it was easy to get lost in the whole situation, thinking about that which used to be carried out on the very spot where I sat. The Torah says that a person is to bring an offering "from animals, from cattle, or from the flock". Why does the Torah state animals, and then name two things that are obviously covered under the category of "animals"? Rashi (the greatest commentator on the basic meaning of the Torah) says that this was to show that not all animals are acceptable, but only those that are domesticated among the flocks of Klal Yisroel. What is the significance of this, why not all animals, such as those captured in hunting or through effort? The Medrash Tanchuma says that this is to show that all G-d wants is that which is easily available. To initially draw close to HaKadosh Baruch Hu, we need only give that which we already have in our possession. Afterall, it was G-d who gave it to us in the first place, and it was meant to be used for something greater.
Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis tells a related story about using whatever we have in our immediate possession to form a bond with G-d. Once, while waiting in the car for a friend on 13th Avenue in Boro Park, she saw an older Jewish woman begging for money on the street. After receiving money from several people, the lady moved to the side, began eating something small for lunch, and came to blend in with the crowd. Soon, an elderly man walked down the street, asking for money as the woman had just done. When he approached the lady, not knowing that she was in the same situation as he was, he asked her for money. Immediately, the woman reached into her pockets and gave the elderly man charity. This, remarked Rebbetzin Jungreis, is the mark of a real, deep-down religious Jew. This is a person who knows that what we have is only from G-d, and we must use it as G-d tells us.
This week's Torah portion goes further to say that with each one of the offerings, we should bring salt. The Midrash explains that when the world was created, and the "lower waters" were split from the "upper waters", the lower waters were upset that they were left in the physical world, seemingly further away from the revealed Divine. G-d evened this out by noting that each korban (offering) would have to be brought with salt, which is taken from the waters of the earth. If this is a way of rectifying the split between the two waters, why not have sea water given with every offering instead of salt, something that only comes out of the water? Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky zt"l says that this is exactly the point! The water itself is elevated simply through evaporation, an easy process. That which is left behind is the salt, which does not naturally climb on its own. In this requirement, G-d is telling us that we should offer up those parts of us not naturally drawn to spirituality and elevation. When we work to bring that which we have difficulty carrying out of gashmius (physicality), this is the greatest offering.
Now we can see a glimpse of the importance and relevance of a korban (offering). In an attempt to get ourselves back on the right path, we must first offer up that which is easily attained, and has already been put in our midst by G-d to create the initial connection. This might be our quickness to feel spirituality in song, or meditation, or religious study, or giving charity. In fact, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov said that giving charity makes up for multitudes of misdeeds, and the reason can be understood in light of this. As it is using something granted to us by G-d to open a channel of holiness in this world, and tugging our heart to move further in the right direction. Once we begin to engage in these things, and we feel ourselves open up to HaKadosh Baruch Hu once more, then we work to elevate whatever brought us to sin, that which is not naturally inclined to align itself with G-d, and in this "salt" is found our individualized task in this world. The whole system of korbanos (offerings) exists to change us internally and bring us even closer to G-d. This is why an offering is called a "korban", which has the same root as the word "karov", meaning "close" as they are meant to bring us nearer to G-d. Now it becomes more clear why, in the Nevi'im (Prophets) it says that more than sacrifices, G-d prefers humble people, contrite hearts, and repentent souls, because this is the intended result of the offerings.
With the arrival of the new Hebrew month of Nissan, may we all strive harder to elevate that which does not easily move upward, so that we can look beyond ourselves, see the life swirling all around us, and uplift the universe to see the final redemption soon, in our days. Omayn.