parsha of the week

Vayikra begins and sacrificial order returns


As we begin Vayikra, the third book in the Torah, we are once again introduced to the sacrificial order. Beyond the reminders of proper behavior that accompany the depiction of sacrifices, what else can we learn from how the sacrifices described, particularly in a world in which we do not have the Temple?

The final passages of chapter 5 speak of offerings for dishonesty. In addition to returing stolen items and paying an additional fifth, the person who was irresponsible with the property of others would have to bring a sacrifice.

"He must bring his guilt offering to G-d. An unblemished ram, worth the prescribed amount, as a guilt offering through the kohen. The priest shall make atonement for him before G-d, and he will then be forgiven for any commitment of crime for which he is guilty." (5:25-26)

Rabbi Mendele of Rimanov recounted a custom that when the reader would conclude the Torah reading with the words l'ashmah va (he is guilty), in order for the reading to not end on such a sour note the congregation would rise and chant a phrase whose words begin with the letters that spell l'ashmah va — "L'el Asher SHavat Mikol Hama'asim Bayom Hashvii." This phrase means, "to G-d who rested on the seventh day from all that He did."

In the book Otzar HaChaim, the author suggests that the significance of this phrase being utilized here might be that the observance of Shabbos is a way in which people return the idea of creation to the Master of Creation. He created for six days. We honor that through working six days. He rested on the seventh day. We honor that gift to the world by giving it back to its Master through our rest on the Sabbath. This is significant at the end of the passage describing returning lost items.

Some conversations are difficult and they might leave someone with a sour feeling unless a positive note is spun into the message; we should be positive whenever we can. 

The second lesson is a dual one of honesty and Sabbath observance. I have heard it noted in anger that people who are not observant of the Sabbath are not fit to serve as witnesses on religious documents. But a different response, of understanding, might be helpful, rather than questioning the honesty, or the capabilities, of a person who is not Sabbath-observant.

Consider this perspective: There is an inherent contradiction in attesting to a document that only has value because of the religion, while living a life that, in a sense, takes away from the G-d who rested on the seventh day and made it holy.

Do these Jews deny G-d? Do they not believe in Him? I think, on the contrary, that they believe in G-d and honor Him in the manner they can. And I hope they're always striving to rise and always aim to get closer to Him. 

Until that time, however, halakha does not allow that person to serve as a witness for religious events, such as for a wedding or the signing of the ketubah.

What's the positive spin? Non-Sabbath-observant Jews can pray, lead davening, say Kaddish, recite blessings, and we all respond. Non-observant Jews count for a minyan

We must love all of our fellow Jews even as we hope and encourage them (and all of us) to grow in our Jewish connections and religious responsibilities.