Parshas Vayikra: Lessons of Sensitivity

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By Rabbi Naftoly Bier

In this week’s פרשה, which introduces us to the mitzvah of קרבנות, sacrifices; the בעל הטורים (1269-1340) points to many lessons of מידות, sensitivity, that the Torah is teaching us.
ספר ויקרא, the book of Leviticus, begins with the word ויקרא, but in contradistinction to the rest of the Torah, the word ויקרא is written with a “small” א, Aleph: ויקרא.

Moshe Rabeinu who was an עניו מאד, (self-deprecating) desired to write “ויקר – and He appeared” rather than “ויקרא – and He called [to Moshe]”. The word ויקר is utilized in the Torah relevant to Hashem appearing to בלעם, Bilaam, indicating that the appearance of Hashem was but happenstance, an indication of Bilaam’s low stature. Hashem told Moshe to write it fully, but Moshe Rabeinu in his humility wrote it with a small א. Though משה רבינו was aware of his position as the one who taught us Torah, the leader of the Jewish people who led them for more than forty years, nevertheless he completely viewed himself as being gifted to be an agent of Hashem and therefore desiring to protect himself from any acclaim.

1) We must be careful of what our actions are predicated upon. חז”ל teach us that כבוד מוציא את האדם…, that the natural drive for acclaim, honor, and fame remove a person from the true transformative manner of living as dictated by the Torah. The ספר העקרים states that this negative drive is at its strongest after the age of 50. Despite a person’s achievements, especially those that are spiritual, it can be negated by one’s need for acclaim. Even Moshe Rabeinu wanted to protect himself by using the same terminology used for בלעם!

In chapter 2:1, the Torah states, “ונפש כי תקריב קרבן מנחה, And a person (literally a soul) when they bring a meal offering” – not an animal or a bird, but rather a most inexpensive offering of flour. We are being introduced to the poverty-stricken person whose deepest wish is to bring a sacrifice and must arduously accomplish their desire. The Torah does not use the phrase ‘לפני ה, before Hashem (1:4) when discussing the fowl and meat offerings. In the משכן or בית המקדש, where others more wealthy are sacrificing animals, they are embarrassed to appear as less dedicated than others in their service to Hashem. The Torah is instructing that the כהנים, priests, even including אהרן הכהן, must treat the poor person with dignity and respect, thereby alleviating their distress. How? By immediately accepting their offering in a manner that doesn’t draw attention to the poor person.

2) Always think of another’s feelings – even if they don’t outwardly display it – and be sensitive to mollify them.

In ג”ב chapter 3:2, when referring to a זבח שלמים, a peace (harmony) offering, if it’s from cattle, the Torah states, “וסמך ידו, and he shall place his hand.” When referring to an offering from a sheep or goat, it adds the word את – (וסמך את ידו). Since cattle are strong, heavy animals, placing one’s hands is hardly felt, whereas on a goat or sheep, due to their inherent lower weight, placing a hand “heavily” can cause distress. Therefore, the Torah adds the word “את” signifying that while dedicating the animal as a sacrifice, a supreme and elevating spiritual act; don’t forget about the animal’s physical distress.

3) Even at the “high point” of one’s spiritual undertaking; the effort to bring the animal to the Temple, the costs involved – and any mitzvah – remember the other one! When one is involved with an important, ennobling cause or project that has the ability to enhance and elevate a community, always be careful of the feelings and emotions of another.

In chapter 4:12, the Torah commands that a חטאת, a sacrifice to atone for a sin of the כהן גדול, the High Priest is is to be burned in public (the parts not brought on the altar). The reason is that when the populace observes that even the distinguished, spiritual leader of Klal Yisroel is able to admit to his mistake, surely every person need not be embarrassed and admit they erred.
4) One might have thought that it is imperative that the dignity and stature of the כהן גדול be protected in its fullest extent possible, for כלל ישראל needs a leader and teacher who is the quintessential representative of perfection in his עבודת ה. The Torah emphatically teaches us, on the contrary, that self-integrity and admittance to a mistake is the highest level of human greatness, inspiring others to understand that anyone can blunder and consequently be honest, thereby truly protecting their self-dignity.

The opening פסוק, verse seems not to be in order of dignity. It states “ויקרא אל משה וידבר ה, and He called to Moshe and Hashem spoke to Him.” Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to state, “And Hashem spoke to Moshe”?

5) The Torah is instructing us with a lesson of sensitivity. When initially in conversation with another, always greet the other first, importing to him the stature and esteem he is regarded. Even the רבש”ע Himself validated Moshe Rabeinu in a most genuine manner. This is similar to the (אבות ד:י”ב) that one should respect another on a higher level that one logically deserves – a pupil as a friend, a friend as a teacher, and a teacher as the awe that one has for Hashem.


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