27 March 2020

Rabbi Winston: Vayikra – מַדְבִּיק / דָבֵק

And He called to Moshe… 
(Vayikra 1:1)

LIFE IS EXTREMELY complicated and so phenomenally complex. And yet, it all comes does to only ONE thing, one’s relationship with G–D. Is it good? Is it bad? Are you close to or distant from Him. Anything and everything else is secondary to these questions.

The Torah says this in many places, but hints to it as well right at the beginning of this week’s parsha. The first word is “vayikra—and He called,” except that the final letter of the word, an aleph, is written smaller than the first four letters of the word. As Rashi explains, it is to indicate G–D’s love and respect for those who are close to Him, and just the opposite regarding those who annoy Him. 

A lot of details pertaining to sacrifices will follow in the upcoming parshios. There are many different kinds of sacrifices, and each one has its own set of instructions to be followed so that it will remain a fitting offering. In some cases, details are similar from one sacrifice to another. In other cases, there are differences, and making a mistake can result in the rejection of the sacrifice, necessitating a replacement.

Yet Dovid HaMelech wrote very clearly:

The sacrifices of G–D are a broken spirit; O G–D, You will not despise a broken and crushed heart. (Tehillim 51:19)

A broken spirit sounds rather harsh, even sadistic. What’s wrong with feeling good about yourself? What’s wrong with walking with a bounce in your step? Why isn’t it better to serve G–D with a WHOLE spirit, rather than with a BROKEN one? 

Nothing. On the contrary, we’re told to serve G–D with joy! If so, what’s with the broken spirit? 

The key word is “sacrifice.” The broken spirit is not the way of life, but it is the way of sacrifices. In fact, that is what a sacrifice was supposed to cause, especially a sin offering. There was the purchasing of the animal, and the shlepping of it to the Bais HaMikdosh. The one who brought it had to place his hands on it, as if to pass his sins over to the animal…which was about to lose its life because of the person’s sin. 

Even if the person was not an animal lover, the whole process had to humble them. When WE sin today, we just have to worry about making it to Yom Kippur to atone for it, and then start again. Life and death, and therefore the value of life, is not nearly as real to us as it became to the sinner who had an animal slaughtered on his behalf!

Today we do not have a Temple, and therefore we cannot perform the Temple service. We still do slaughter animals, but mostly just to eat them. We barbecue steaks, dress up hamburgers, and eat juicy hotdogs. Rather than use animals to atone for our sins these days, they can often be the cause of some of them, including overeating or a lack of sensitivity to the life that was lost to provide the food.

In fact, life has become so convenient in so many ways. Recently I traveled to the States, and in one city there must have been at least ten kosher restaurants and food shops in two blocks. I had a great time in two days…but something didn’t seem quite right. And though it is less so where I live, still many families have learned to enjoy the “good life,” especially when it comes to homes, cars, etc.

Judaism is clearly not anti-materialism, as Shabbos and Yom Tov prove. But as long as we have a yetzer hara the question will always be, “How much?” and “At what cost?” As the Talmud states, few people get to eat from both “tables” in this world, the spiritual one and the material one. If you’re enjoying one, it will undoubtedly be at the cost of the other. The extent to which one enjoys one table or the other is the person’s own free will choice, for which they will either be rewarded or punished on their personal day of judgment.  

Before Moshe Rabbeinu died, he warned the Jewish people that their success on the land would make them forget about G–D, which it did. They began to take Torah less seriously, and some began to sin. At that point,  G–D would send in a neighboring nation whose attack would wake the Jewish nation up, and make them do teshuvah. It would break their haughty spirit, opening the door for Divine mercy and military victory…until the cycle repeated itself again. 

And again. 
And again, etc. 

One might get the impression that G–D made this world for man to do as he pleases, within certain boundaries. He has rules for man, but beyond them, people might think, man can go about his business and barely ever think about or thank G–D. For the most part, that is the way mankind has lived for thousands of years, and many Jews for at least the last 100 years. 

G–D made the world for one reason and one reason only, to give man a chance to have a relationship with Him, the closer the better. Imagine it. Everything in the known and unknown universe was created JUST to facilitate that relationship. It may be unfathomable, but it is true. How does some black hole help man come closer to G–D? Somehow and in some way. And that sun that went supernova long ago? That too is for the sake of man’s relationship with G–D. How? I can only guess.

And all of this is alluded to by that little Aleph at the end of “vayikra.” Perhaps that is why it is so small. It is hinting to us that our relationship to G–D is something that should be impossible to overlook and yet IS overlooked by so many. For them, it’s as if the Aleph barely exists because they do not work on closeness to G–D, and that’s a BIG problem.

The rest of the word tells us that. “Vayikar” means that a person’s relationship with G–D gets relegated to the back burner, in their mind first and in G–D’s mind, so-to-speak, next. G–D says, “You may believe in Me and even learn Torah and perform mitzvos. But if you basically deal with ME as if I am only ‘nature,’ then I will deal with YOU as if I am only nature.” 

That may work fine when history isn’t doing or expecting much, like about two months ago. That’s when people got up and went to minyan as they always do, and went to learn or work as they were used to doing. It’s when taking public transportation was not an issue, and flying abroad was commonplace. The only time a person was homebound, was if they caught the flu or just a cold and WANTED to stay home to nurse it. 

That’s when going shopping was an everyday occurrence you never had to think twice about (just how you were going to pay for everything). Two months ago, Chasans and Kallahs fulfilled their dreams by making the Chasanah of their planning, and making a bris or a siyum was easy to arrange. It all seemed to happen…well…just so NATURALLY.

Not today. In a relatively short time, the world has shut down, and if hasn’t shut down, then it has slowed down considerably. Even my prayer has slowed down considerably. At shul, I had to keep pace, and deal with the distractions of a minyan. I felt rushed, and frustrated when I lost my train of thought, or had to repeat words that didn’t get the chance to come out of my mouth just right. 

At home there is quiet. There is no minyan to keep pace with. I can go slow enough to not only get each of the words right, but I can actually think about them as they pass through my brain. And remarkably, just that change alone has allowed me to feel them, and more importantly, feel G–D more than ever before. It has allowed me to work on my “Aleph” and change “vayikar” into “vayikra.” 

Viruses come and go, some quickly, some slowly. Some are only dangerous but others are deadly. Either way they slow life down, which in our super fast paced world, is quite an accomplishment…a G–DLY accomplishment. We need to fight against it, because the Torah tell us to. But we need to work with it too, because when the Torah tells us to choose life, it is talking closeness to G–D. As it says:

But you who cleave to G–D your G–D are alive, all of you, this day. 
(Devarim 4:4)

Not ironically, the word for “infectious” is from the same root as the one used for cleaving to G–D, “davuk ( דָבֵק)” Let our cleaving to G–D protect us from the virus trying to “cleave (מַדְבִּיק)” to us. מַדְבִּיק / דָבֵק

Not so long ago when G–D said “Jump!”
Many people would answer, “Not a hope in the sky!”
Now after G–D has clearly said “Jump!”
People have changed and answered, “How high?”

The mighty US and overconfident USSR,
Shook up many, but also left many without fear.
Even world wars had limits as to just how far,
Not like COVID-19 stumping even the bioengineer.

Within such a short time so much has changed,
Even the simplest of chores now so difficult to do. 
Just like that so much has been rearranged,
Can’t leave town or even our homes, WHO knew?

Who would have thought an enemy so very small,
Could have so large an impact on so much at once?
Insidiously it has spread to the short and the tall,
On just about anyone it is ready to pounce.

It’s not the first time, so it’s not all that odd,
In fact in the Torah it happened to the Egyptian nation.
When Pharaoh brazenly asked, “Me Hashem—Who is G–D?”
Thinking himself the father of Creation.

Plague after plague G–D kept stating His claim,
“I promised My children to redemption they will go!
They’ve waited and suffered while you sought your fame,
Now I will make of you the most spectacular show!”

But Pharaoh and Egypt resisted until their bitter end,
Their pompous way of life more important than life itself.
They did not get it, and would not at all bend,
To the G–D of Creation Who would plague them Himself!

Now here we are three millennia later, a whole new cast,
Holding on to a way of life they feel they can’t abandon.
But the message is the same and we better learn fast,
Get with the program, you personally and no stand-in.

The prophet said it clearly with these very words,
How on THAT day G–D will be One forever more.
To avoid the choice now is more than absurd,
To right all wrongs before He permanently shuts His door.

So together we should all rise to this important occasion,
And take to heart the words passed down from father to son.
The time is approaching when we’ll need no persuasion,
That G–D is THE King, and that only HE is One.


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