Parasha Inspiration – Vayikra

This week, Shabbat HaChodesh, we begin the book of Vayikra. Vayikra is also called Torat Kohanim, instruction to the Priests. This can be a bit confusing because the Sifra, the Midrash Halacha regarding Vayikra, is also referred to as Torat Kohanim. One must simply determine which is being discussed from context. The connection between the Sifra and Vayikra is so important it cannot be overstated. Rashi relies on the Sifra for much of his commentary on Vayikra.

            Vayikra begins with an outline of the rules regarding the bringing of an Olah. The term Olah is translated in various ways, or simply skipped over in the translations. The root of Olah is found in the words Aliyah, the going up to the Torah, or the going up to the land of Israel to visit or to immigrate. The idea is to go up, going up. In essence, the oral law is a “going up” offering. Although the Torah gives us a specific outline regarding the rules of the Olah, much instructions regarding specifics is left out. The specifics regarding the Olah were passed down orally and finally redacted in the Mishnah and Gemara. Regardless, the rules and regulations of the Olah as given in the Torah are very specific. Why is this important? This shows us a very crucial concept regarding our relationship with Hashem.

            Talmud repeatedly discusses how sacrifices and offerings may be made invalid. Tractate Pesachim discusses two practices that would make the Korban Pesach invalid. One practice makes the Korban Pesach invalid because it is piggul, that is, that the heart and mind of the Kohayn and the offerer of the offering are not right. The other practice that makes the Korban Pesach invalid is called pasul, that is, the sacrifice was brought incorrectly. It is vital to understand that the invalidation of an offering due to either of these practices means that the offering is as if it had never taken place. In a kal v’chomer, we see that if this is true of offerings, how much more true of Mitzvot?

            As we pursue Mitzvot, we must be careful not to invalidate the Mitzvot by making them either piggul or pasul. Not only must our hearts and minds be in the right place, we must do them correctly. The practice of “spiritualizing” Mitzvot is not what Hashem intends. When we spiritualize the practice of Mitzvot, consider what we are really doing. We are saying that we love Hashem enough to do a Mitzvah, but we don’t love Him enough to make an effort. We are treating the Name casually. More directly, we love Hashem as long as it is not inconvenient. This is not performing a Mitzvah. This is worship of self. I’m saying that my convenience is more important than Hashem. This is the antithesis of all of Yeshua’s teaching. When asked what is the greatest commandment, Yeshua replied with the words of the Shema, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your might.” This means that we must not invalidate our own performance of Hashem’s Mitzvot. We must not make them piggul or pasul. We must do the Mitzvot, with our hearts, minds, and physical practice all in line.

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Rabbi Steven Bernstein

Rabbi Steven Bernstein

Steve was born on Lag B’Omer in Ann Arbor, MI but was raised in Gainesville, FL. The son of two University of Florida professors, he excelled in the sciences in school. In addition to his normal academic studies, he pursued his Jewish education studying with many Rabbis and professors of Judaic Studies from the University including visiting Rabbis such as Abraham Joshua Heschel and Shlomo Carlebach.