on Monday, 27 June 2011. Posted in Vayikra

The Physical Rewards of the Torah (26:3-13)

A person’s dedication to Torah and mitzvos should be to the extent that Torah and mitzvos are not merely an important aspect of his life. Rather, a Jew should feel that the Torah and its mitzvos are his very life, i.e. that his goals are all part of and one with the Torah’s value system.

The Talmud expresses this point with an analogy: “Man is like the fish of the sea. For just as the fish of the sea die as soon as they come on to dry land, likewise man will die if he separates himself from Torah and mitzvos” (Avodah Zarah 3b).

When a person has such a thorough commitment to Judaism, there will cease to be a dichotomy between his physical and spiritual life. For so long as the person sees Torah and mitzvos as merely the spiritual “side” of his life and his physical pursuits as separate, he has not succeeded in becoming entirely united with the Torah, like the fish who live exclusively in water and are entirely dependent on it. But when the person adopts the view that his only value system is that of the Torah, then even basic acts of eating, sleeping and recreation will be carried out as an integral part of his Torah lifestyle.

It is for this reason that the Torah chose to emphasize physical, rather than spiritual rewards (see Classic Questions). For since a reward is granted “measure for measure,” as a direct consequence of a person’s actions, a stress on spiritual rewards might give the mistaken impression that the Torah is only addressed to our spiritual and       not our physical lives. In truth, however, the Torah is our very essence, so it addresses even the most external part of our lives.     And it is in order to emphasize this point that the stress here is on physical rewards.

(Based on Likutei Sichos vol. 37, pp. 82-3)



on Monday, 27 June 2011. Posted in Vayikra

The Sabbatical Year

One of the reasons for the Sabbatical year is to allow the land to rest for a year, to enhance its fertility (Guide for the Perplexed 3:39). From this it follows that after six consecutive years of intensive agriculture, the land is at its least fertile point in the seven-year cycle. So the Torah’s promise, that the land “will yield produce (sufficient) for three years” in the naturally infertile sixth year, is totally irrational, and requires a person to accept an authority which is higher than his mortal understanding.

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 97a) compares the six agricultural years to the six millennia of this world, and the Sabbatical year to the seventh millennium (when the Redemption will have arrived). Since the Jewish people suffer from a gradual regression in spiritual stature as the generations pass, a person might ask: How could the efforts of the spiritually weak and “infertile” sixth millennium bring the true and complete redemption? The Torah answers: it is the suprarational self-sacrifice and commitment to Judaism, of the final generations of exile, that will bring the blessings of the Redemption.

(Based on Likutei Sichos, vol. 27, pp. 189-190)


on Monday, 27 June 2011. Posted in Vayikra

The Four Species (23:40)

In the case of all mitzvos, the actual halacha is derived from the Oral Law. Even when the mitzvah has its origin in a written verse, it is the Oral Law that tells us the precise halachic meaning for each expression.

In the case of three of the four species, we find that the conditions described in the verse must be present; if not, they are not valid. The esrog (citron) must be a “beautiful fruit of the tree” literally; the lulav must be “date fronds that can be bound” literally, and the hadasim (myrtle) must be “like cords” literally, with three leaves emerging from each knot (see Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch). However, the fourth species does not have to be “willows of the brook” literally. Rather, from a halachic perspective, this condition was intended in a more general sense, to mean a species of willow which normally grows by the brook.

The inner reason why this fourth sign is not taken literally, can be understood according to the teaching of the Midrash, that the willow represents the Jew who is lacking in both Torah and good deeds. Since this Jew does not demonstrate any signs of his Jewishness, his corresponding species, the willow, is valid even if it does not openly demonstrate the sign which it is given in the verse (“brookside willow”). Nevertheless, the verse does indicate that the willow must come from a specific species, alluding to the fact that this simple Jew is also from an esteemed “species,” for he is a descendant of Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov.

(Based on Likutei Sichos vol. 22, pp. 132-4)


on Monday, 27 June 2011. Posted in Vayikra

Left over Sacrificial meat (19:6,8)

If, when sacrificing a peace-offering, a person has the intention of leaving over some of its meat past the prescribed time, then the entire sacrifice will not be “accepted favorably” by God (v. 6).

If however a person slaughtered the sacrifice with the intention of eating the meat within the correct time, but then he actually eats it after the time limit had elapsed, then while he has indeed “profaned what is holy to God” (v. 8), his sin does not invalidate the entire sacrifice.

At first glance, this appears to be illogical. For if he merely intends to eat part of its meat past the correct time, it invalidates the whole sacrifice; whereas if he actually did so, only the part of the sacrifice that was left over becomes invalid.

Surely, the act of leaving over sacrificial meat should be more severe than the mere intention to do so?

The explanation here is that thought is a general faculty which pervades all the activities that follow in its wake; whereas an action is more specific, limited to one deed in particular. An incorrect intention when offering a sacrifice is thus a general disqualification of the entire sacrifice; whereas the actual leaving over of sacrificial meat is a particular disqualification, which does not have the power to invalidate the earlier procedures which were carried out correctly.

In our daily lives, this teaches us the importance of faith, which is a general aspect of Judaism. A flaw in a person’s faith will negatively affect the observance of all the mitzvos he performs; whereas a flaw, for example, in the strings of a person’s tzitzis will not compromise his ability to observe the mitzvah of tefilin properly.

(Based on Sichas Shabbos Parshas Vayeilech 5746)

Acharei Mos

on Monday, 27 June 2011. Posted in Vayikra

Offering up the Incense

According to the Zohar, the purpose of offering incense in the Holy Temple is to subdue the potency of the evil inclination. This is alluded to by the fact that, unlike the sacrifices, not all the ingredients of the incense were from substances fit for human consumption, and one ingredient was foul-smelling. Thus, the burning of the incense represented the spiritual elevation of the very lowest of items, including the evil inclination itself.

However, this begs the question: on Yom Kippur the prosecuting forces of evil are temporarily silenced (Yoma 20a), so why did incense have to be offered as part of the special service of Yom Kippur (see v. 12-13)?

Chasidic thought explains that the incense of the rest of the year was comparable to teshuvah out of fear, which has the power to wipe away the sins of the past. The incense of Yom Kippur, however, is comparable to teshuvah out of love, which has the power to transform intentional transgressions into merits.

Thus, the incense of Yom Kippur is not a negative service aimed at wiping away the evil inclination, but has the positive goal of elevating the Jewish people to serve God in a truly unlimited manner, such that even the past is transformed for the good. For this reason, the incense was burned specifically in the Holy of Holies, where God’s absolute infinitude was revealed.

(Based on Likutei Sichos vol. 14, p. 129)


on Monday, 27 June 2011. Posted in Vayikra

Tzara’as of houses

According to Chasidic thought, tzara’as has an extremely sublime spiritual source, which was “misdirected” and “fell down” to become the most severe of all types of ritual impurity. This idea is expressed most poignantly by the case of tzara’as of houses. For when the Jewish people destroyed their houses only to find hoards of Amorite gold, they had a clear, visible indication that there is a great degree of goodness “locked up” in the affliction of tzara’as.

And this is the inner reason why the laws of the tzara’as of houses are recorded in a section unto themselves (unlike the laws of contamination and purification of tzara’as of skin and clothes which are interwoven together). For since the tzara’as of houses openly reveals a deeper, inner good, it is utterly unique.

(Based on Likutei Sichos vol. 27, p. 107ff.)



on Monday, 27 June 2011. Posted in Vayikra

“He should be brought to Aharon the priest” (13:2)

Kohanim (priests) are people of inherent kindness who bless the Jewish people with love. Therefore, when it comes to declaring somebody with the severe condition of tzara’as, which requires total isolation from the Jewish camp, it is imperative that this harsh judgment be done out of love, so the Torah requires it to be done by a priest.

From this we can learn a powerful lesson: that if one feels that another person has acted disgracefully and one wishes to chastise him, one must first examine one’s own motives to see if one’s desire to rebuke another is truly being done out of love.

(Based on Likutei Sichos vol. 27, p. 88ff.)


on Monday, 27 June 2011. Posted in Vayikra

The signs of a kosher animal

In order to serve God properly, we need to train our natural animalistic drive—the animal soul—to stretch beyond its natural limitations. This involves two stages:

a) Split hooves. The split hoof is effectively a double hoof. This teaches us that our actions in the service of God—represented by the foot, or hoof, that propels a person into action—should be recognizably doubled. I.e. when we are involved in any holy matter it should be apparent to an onlooker that, in addition to our current actions, we are already preparing for a higher, more lofty achievement too.

b.)Chewing the cud is also a process of doubling, where food is digested for a second time. This teaches us that when it comes to personal, spiritual refinement (represented by the digestion which takes place inside), we should not be satisfied with one phase of refinement, but we should seek to fine-tune our spiritual sensitivity to greater heights.

The pig has split hooves, but it does not chew the cud. According to the above analogy, this represents a person who has many good deeds, but lacks a certain degree of internal spiritual refinement. Nevertheless, since “the deed is the main thing,” the person’s more subtle problems can be rectified by placing him in a more refined environment. Thus, the pig will become kosher in the Messianic Era, when the spiritual climate of the world will be uplifted, since its basic, external signs are in order.

(Based on Sefer Hasichos 5751, p. 159ff.)



on Monday, 27 June 2011. Posted in Vayikra

The Thanksgiving offering

Chasidic thought has a further sequence of the four cases that require a thanksgiving offering, corresponding to the process by which the soul descends into the world:

1. Sick person. When the soul leaves its source beginning its journey down into this world, the intense love for God which it experienced previously is weakened. So the soul becomes “sick” with its desire to regain its lost love.

2. Imprisonment. As the soul descends further downwards, it becomes affected by the progressive confinement of the spiritual and physical worlds, until it is eventually “imprisoned” in a body.

3. Sea voyage. While the soul is living in this world, there is the danger that it will “drown” in the turbulent waters of worldliness and physicality.

4. Desert. The soul may regress further, God forbid, to the point that the person lives a life devoid and barren of any spiritual meaning whatsoever.

And since these challenges are great, the soul is made to swear an oath before it leaves its source—“be righteous and don’t be wicked”—giving it the strength to prevail against all odds.

(Based on Sefer Hama’amarim 5737, pp. 284-5)


on Monday, 27 June 2011. Posted in Vayikra

Offering a Sacrifice

Ramban stresses the importance of a person’s intentions and feelings when offering a sacrifice. This is further emphasized by the explanation that a sacrifice serves to bring a person’s attributes—both intellect and emotion—close to God.

However, this begs the question: If the main purpose of a sacrifice is to evoke the appropriate feelings, then why does the Torah mention only the physical details of a sacrifice, and totally omit the emotional and intellectual demands which an offering to God entails?

It could be argued, however, that the Torah did indeed hint to the emotional element of the sacrifices, by recording the voluntary offerings (chaps 1-3) before the obligatory offerings (chap. 4 ff):

At first glance, this appears to be quite puzzling: Surely the Torah should have instructed us first about offerings which must be brought before detailing the optional sacrifices?

With an obligatory sacrifice, a person could be carrying out the mitzvah merely because he has to. With a voluntary sacrifice, the very fact that a person is bringing an offering when he is not required to do so testifies that his intentions are good. Therefore, the Torah recorded the voluntary offerings unexpectedly at the very outset, to teach us that just as a person’s good intentions are self-evident in the case of a voluntary offering, likewise good intentions are of paramount importance with all offerings.

(Based on Likutei Sichos vol. 17, pp. 12-13)