Sunday, March 14, 2010

From Many, One

In the Torah reading for this week, we move from sefer Shemos (Exodus) to Vayikra (Leviticus). In this week's parsha, Vayikra, the Torah discusses the various korbonos (offerings/sacrifices) that individuals are instructed to bring. The parsha begins with G-d telling Moshe (Moses) to speak to the People of Israel, telling them, "Adam ki yakriv mikem korban" ("When a person from among you brings a sacrifice"). Chazal, the early sages of Judaism, teach us that the central purpose of offering a sacrifice is to nullify our personal desires to the Divine will. The focus of the system of sacrifices is not the blood spilled upon killing the animal, as indeed not all sacrifices were animals, but the focus and contrition of the person who brought the offering. The root of the word for sacrifice (korban) actually means "close" or "near", as the entire process was meant to draw an individual closer to G-d, closer to the community, and closer to their true essence through the symbolic giving of their own "animal self".

An interesting feature of the words spoken from Moshe to Klal Yisroel regarding sacrifices is the seemingly extra word "mikem" or "from you". Had this word not been included, the words themselves would still make perfect sense and also seem to have the same meaning ("When a person brings a sacrifice"). Because we know that not even a single letter in the entire Torah is unnecessary, we have to wonder why this word appears in the text, and what it comes to teach us.

The Chiddushei HaRim, the first Gerer rebbe, says that the answer to this question comes from the famous adage, "If I am not for myself, who will be? If I am only for myself, what am I?" It is commonly known that each person comes into this world with a specific task that is meant for that person alone, with a special piece of the universe to rectify that only they can impact. When a person works toward their task and eventually achieves this task, the ramifications are found within the entire community, and the whole of redemption is only achieved in the unity of countless individuals' tasks.

With this in mind, the Sfas Emes, the grandson of the Chiddushei HaRim, explains the need for the word "mikem" in the verse. The korbonos we bring are effective only because we bring them as a small part of a greater community. Not only does this apply to the actual physical offering brought, but also to the deeper meaning of the offering: self-sacrifice. Whenever we realize that we are part of a larger story, and our actions impact all of those around us, we come closer to understanding the great importance of replacing our desires and will with the will and desire of G-d.

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