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  KD MAGAZINE!         ב"ה              
 
 
  PARASHAT VAYIKRA  
 
By Rabbi Asher Brander
 
RABBI ASHER BRANDER
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here's an obvious question. We bring a sacrifice (korban) for a particular category of unintentional sin[1] [chatas]. Why? Certainly, No harm was intended and none, ostensibly was done. The knowledgeable may thrust back: adam muad l'olam! i.e. man is always culpable for damages he wreaked, irrelevant of intention! Our obvious parry is: those situations have an other. No chatas sin has an other - they are all in the realm of man-God.

Answers abound:

a. Every unintentional sin possesses a degree of negligence. [You may oversleep minyan, but you are far less likely to oversleep the plane flight]

b. An unintentional sin is a pause for reflection: [How did I get to the point that I violated such a strict aveirah? Is God trying to tell me something? Minimally, he is trying to tell me - ]  

Before we present a 3rd approach, let us pose a simple textual question: The Torah introduces the chatas section: [4:1]

 If a soul [nefesh] unwittingly transgresses any commandment of Ad-noy which should not be done and commits one of these sins.

Man is described as nefesh in contrast to the more classical ish or even adam[2] [which is used for the general intro] Ramban explains the precision wording:

"because the thought emanates from the soul and it was the soul that was mistaken, thus the Torah employs the term soul. And the reason for a sacrifice for the soul that sins unintentionally is because all sins create a degradation in the soul and they are a blemish to it; the soul will not be able to greet its Creator unless it is tahar (cleansed) from sin." 

 

In other words: every sin has one prime casualty: the soul. Unintentional sins may not be the function of a weak or errant conscious decision, but nevertheless, they create metaphysical wreckage[3]; they harm the sensitive soul[4].

Ramban's simple, but ingenious proof is a classic reduction to the absurd argument:  

Were an unintentional sin to be harmless, ignorance would equal halachic bliss! That preposterous notion would exalt ignorance to a desired state. In Torah-truth however, what I don't know will hurt me, for what the body doesn't feel, the soul does.

The powerful notion of the soul sensitivity flows in several directions:

1. The neshama tehora, the pristine soul is God's great gift to man. Davka through its sensitive nature is the neshama able to elevate a functional animal [the body] into a tzelem elokim; [Divine image]. Our propensity for selflessness, sacrifice, heroism, and empathy has no real analog in the animal world. Most significantly is the line the traditional Jew says every morning in praise of the soul in the classical prayer Elokai Neshama

kol zeman shehaneshama bikirbi, modeh ani lefanecha

So long as the soul is within me, I admit/thank  you

 

While I have the soul, I acknowledge ultimate connectedness, i.e. my inextricable link to Hashem.  

2. The flip side to that soul-sensitivity is that it is very sensitive. Try talking to sensitive people: They may be the nurse, the kindergarten teachers or the simple baker/candlestick maker [do they exist anymore?]. Sensitive people discern and read beyond the articulated word; they laugh with the joy-ful and cry with the bereaved. But those very same people who are moved to tears for others can cry really quickly for themselves. Thus, the Talmud teaches that one's wife's tears are always close by, for it is that degree of sensitivity needed to mother her children.

A final thought: Yesterday, a great and holy Jew, Rav Elya Svei passed away. He was an outspoken leader for Torah Jewry ; a man of piety and integrity.

I speak to a friend today who mourns the fact that he is so unmoved by loss of such a great Jew. He knows what to feel. He simply can't find the time and way to feel it. I try to comfort him: We are the generation of the heel of the messiah. The heel is the least sensitive part of the body. Every little thing we feel goes along way.

As we lurch towards Mashiach, may God remove the barriers from the collective soul of Klal Yisrael.

Good Shabbos - Asher Brander
 


[1] It might rise to the level of sin that carries with it karet or above were it to be violated intentionally.

[2] Which is the terms the Torah uses to introduce the whole notions of sacrifices [Vayikra, 1:2]

[3] Rav Soloveivchik framed this notion in classic terms. Sin creates consequence and distance. Teshuva thus needs to atone and to purify [kapara/tahara]. The former erases punishment while the latter removes the impurities.

[4] Remarkably, even tough mitzvos might harm the soul. Consider the idea a. that King David was not allowed to build the beit hamikdash because he spilled much blood [legally!],  b. the Talmud links shechita with rough tendencies c. the Torah promises those  who mete out tough judgment upon the idolatrous city, that they shall be cloaked with a blanket of  mercy;  ergo without the Torah's promise, the act of killing would have created deleterious spiritual tendencies. A similar notion can be stated with regard to Pinchas and his covenant of peace [cf. Netziv, Devarim 13]

 

Rabbi Asher Brander is the rabbi of The Westwood Kehilla, an orthodox synagogue in Los Angeles, CA. Their website is: http://www.kehilla.org/

 
   
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