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Parashat VaYikra: Lessons from Beraishit 4 for Vayikra 1 by Yaakov Bieler

March 21, 2012 by  
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The letter as opposed to the spirit of the sacrifices.

Although detailed laws governing sacrifices first appear in Shemot with regard to the  Pascal sacrifice (12:3 ff.), and then more comprehensively starting with the beginning of VaYikra (1:2 ff.), it is from the accounts of offerings in Beraishit[1] that we can discover the underlying motivations that should inform the myriad details of sacrifice ritual. In Shemot and VaYikra only the technical means by which a particular sacrifice is chosen and offered on the altar are listed; what brings a person to want to make such an offering, and how s/he might feel during the course of its presentation to HaShem can best be derived from the anecdotes of the “Avot” (forefathers).  While it could be maintained that the individuals who are credited with founding Judaism, i.e., Avraham, Sara, Yitzchak, Rivka, Yaakov, Leah and Rachel, were religious geniuses and therefore what was clearly understood by them would not necessarily be totally comprehensible to those that would come after them down through the ages, on the other hand, the recognition that the Tora sees fit to record their actions with respect to sacrifices would suggest that not only should the principle of “Ma’asei Avot Siman LaBanim” (the deeds of the forefathers are precursors for their offspring) be invoked regarding what HAPPENED to them, but also how they THOUGHT and RELATED to HaShem by means of the actions initiated by them which manifested their respective personal spirituality.

What motivation underlay the very first sacrifice recorded in the Tora?

From a literal perspective, the initial plant and animal sacrifices recorded in the Tora are brought by Kayin and Hevel in Beraishit 4:3-5.  In light of HaShem’s Acceptance of Hevel’s sacrifice and Rejection of what Kayin offers, it appears that what the former was thinking and trying to accomplish spiritually was Considered by God more acceptable and worthy of emulation. But what exactly constitutes the motivation behind Hevel’s sacrifice is left to the reader to reflect upon and attempt to determine. Traditional commentators speculate regarding what the world’s first male siblings might have been thinking that led to animal and plant sacrifice.[2]

The sacrifices of the first brothers suggest overall attitudes towards life.

Klee Yakar (Beraishit 4:3) offers a sophisticated description of a fundamental theological disagreement between Kayin and Hevel which manifests itself not only in the quality of sacrifice that each brings,[3] but also in the very livelihoods that they had earlier decided to pursue and from which their sacrifices derive. The commentator posits that because Kayin did not believe in an afterlife, but rather maintained that the this-worldly life was all that one had to look forward to, the older brother decided to acquire and possess real estate, literally a piece of  “Olam HaZeh” (this world).  Because of his concern with “this worldliness”, Kayin cared only about possessions that were essentially immoveable and immutable. Hevel, in contrast to his brother, was primarily focused upon his spiritual dimension, and therefore was interested in a means of supporting himself which would lend itself to wandering and lengthy periods of contemplation. As a result of Hevel’s emphasis upon “Olam HaBa” (the world to come), places and objects were of only passing, utilitarian interest to him. Consequently, becoming a herder allowed him to move whenever and wherever he wanted for as long as he wished.

Based upon his assumptions regarding their respective attitudes towards “Olam HaZeh” and “Olam HaBa”, and, by extension, their views regarding possessions, Klee Yakar then posits why each of the brothers gives the sacrifice that he does: Individuals like Kayin, who are enamored of their possessions, essentially feel that they ought to horde whatever they have and produce, and use these things exclusively for their own personal enjoyment. Such individuals are reluctant to be charitable to others, and prefer, instead, to live only for themselves. Admittedly, once they grow older, and infirmity and thoughts of mortality inevitably begin to set in, the commentator asserts that people like Kayin may begin to attempt to emulate the lifestyles of their more spiritual brethren, and at that point begin to engage in the fulfillment of Commandments and acts of kindness. Yet, as a result of a lifetime spent indulging themselves, it is difficult for Kayin and those like him to act wholeheartedly in this manner, and therefore at best, they will part only minimally and begrudgingly with some of their least prized possessions—hence the disparity in quality between the produce of Kayin and the lambs of Hevel. Such a perspective enables the commentator to account for the adverbial phrase introducing the sacrifices brought by Kayin and Hevel, (Beraishit 4:3) “VaYehi MiKeitz Yamim” (and it was at the end of days—of their, the brothers’, lives), i.e., Kayin would never have even brought a relatively inferior sacrifice in the first place had he not begun to worry about his impending demise.[4] Hevel, never having developed a deep attachment to any of his possessions, can easily and even eagerly offer the best of what he has.

Applying Klee Yakar’s hypothesis re Kayin and Hevel to those offering sacrifices as well as committing resources to the performance of Commandments at later points in time.

Klee Yakar’s approach based upon the specific case study of Kayin and Hevel, can then be extended to anyone subsequently bringing a voluntary sacrifice.[5] [6] When looking at the example of Kayin, it can be concluded that sacrifices may be brought out of fear of impending death or at least the realization of one’s ultimate mortality, in an attempt to appease one’s Creator when finally coming to grips with the finiteness of human life. Perhaps because such an individual has previously not developed a true spiritual sensibility, and therefore may be prone to offering sacrifices of inferior quality, all sorts of objective requirements for wholeness and perfection re the offerings that one may bring to the Tabernacle or Temple are demanded by the Tora in order to not allow poor quality sacrifices to be brought. Examples of such rules include the disqualification of animals with blemishes (e.g., VaYikra 22:20-21; Devarim 15:21; 17:1) and the rejection of sacrifices that have been obtained with funds associated with less than wholesome activities (Devarim 23:19). It is hard to imagine that a truly spiritual individual would have to be commanded to avoid giving anything other than the best of what he has; such directives would appear to be needed by those who have trouble “getting it”. And b sed upon the Sefer HaChinuch’s oft-cited principle[7] that by engaging in proper external actions, there is the possibility that proper values will be internalized over time, those with “Kayin-like” inclinations might perhaps be brought around to Hevel’s sensibility by complying with the Tora’s high standards for sacrifices.

Klee Yakar’s Hevel paradigm, on the other hand, allows us to understand that for some, offering sacrifices is a means of simultaneously expressing their anti-materialism as well as a highly developed sense of spirituality and devotion to HaShem. Such individuals would tend to want to give everything away for higher purposes, and sometimes might even have to be protected from such self-abnegation by laws limiting the upper amounts that one is allowed to spend upon optional Mitzvot and Tzedaka, as in the following Halachic sources:

Tur, Yoreh De’ah #249.

The amount (of “Tzedaka”) that is appropriate to give is as follows:

a)  If an individual has the means, then he should give in accordance with the needs of the poor (however much that might be)—see Devarim 15:8.

b)  If an individual cannot afford meeting all of the needs of the poor, how much must he give?

1)  No more than 1/5 of his possessions is considered fulfilling the Commandment of Tzedaka in the most praiseworthy manner.

2)  1/10 of one’s possessions is the average manner by which the Commandment is to be fulfilled.

3)  Giving less than 1/10 is indicative of a parsimonious individual.

4)  It states in the Talmud Yerushalmi (Pe’ah 1:1 [15b]) that the first year (that one earns an income), 1/5 is given from the principle. Subsequently, 1/5 can come from the interest/profit.

5)  In every year afterwards, a person should not give less that 1/3 Shekel per year, which is 1/6 ounce of silver, and if he gives less than this, then he has not fulfilled the Commandment to give Charity at all.

Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 656:1:

If a person acquires an Etrog (to fulfill the Commandment of Four Species on Sukkot) that is worthy for the Mitzva but is very small, and afterwards he finds a larger one, it is a worthy act to spend up to 1/3 more “inclusively” (the final total of what one spends should be increased by 1/3 compared to what one originally spent) in order to exchange the first Etrog for the better one.

There are those who say that if one finds two Etrogim to acquire, and one is more beautiful than the other, he should buy the more beautiful one as long as it does not cost more than 1/3 more (inclusively) as compared to the other.

RaMA:

With respect to a person who has no Etrog, or cannot perform some other Mitzva that is time-sensitive, it is not necessary for him to spend a great fortune in order to acquire the necessary ritual object in order to fulfill the Commandment, as it is said, (Ketubot 50a) “One who spends a great deal, should not spend more than 1/5”. This is with respect to a positive Commandment. But with respect to a negative Commandment, one should spend all that he possesses before he transgresses.[8]

While Hevel may have brought his best, i.e., the first-born and the fattest of his herd, his predilection for self-sacrifice did not lead him to bring ALL of his sheep, and thereby renouncing all of his possessions. Kayin can be faulted for not sacrificing enough; but it is also important to stress that the counterbalance should not be so extreme that it becomes an expression of asceticism and total other-worldliness. While never bringing a “Korban” is reprehensible, turning all of one’s possessions into “Korbanot” is equally to be avoided.

Another commentator’s understanding of Kayin’s motivation.

HaK’tav VeHaKabbala also uses the phrase (Beraishit 4:3) “VaYehi MiKeitz Yamim” as a springboard for developing his understanding of the motivations for the sacrifices of Kayin and Hevel.  But, instead of suggesting that the phrase is alluding to   human mortality, this commentator invokes a Midrash in order to define what sort of “end of days” are being referred to:

Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, Chapt. 21

…The night of the (future) Yom Tov of Pesach arrived.

Adam said to his sons (Kayin and Hevel), “In the future, on this night, the Jewish people will be offering their Pascal sacrifices. You too should offer sacrifices before our Creator.”

Kayin brought as a sacrifice from what was left over from his food, parched corn and flax seeds.

And Hevel brought from the first-born of his flock and of the fattest of the sheep whose wool had not been sheared…[9]

The commentator contends that since according to Bava Metzia 106b, the middle of the month of Nissan, when Pesach occurs, is the beginning of the spring harvest,[10] the words “Keitz” (end) and “Ketzir” (harvestà end of the growing season) are intimately related to one another conceptually by virtue of their sharing the letters “Kuf” and “Tzadi”. Furthermore, the act of harvesting is also a process whereby the stalks of grain are shortened (“Katzar”).

Aside from HaK’tav VeHaKabbala’s impressive inventory of additional words that share similar connotations, the assumption that the offering of sacrifices are particularly appropriate during periods of harvesting one’s crops provides an additional context for understanding what may motivate one to offer sacrifices. Farming has always entailed considerable delayed gratification. From the time that the land is prepared for planting, the many stages required for the successful growth of crops as well as the manifold threats to their successfully coming to fruition and ripening, require considerable “Emuna” and “Bitachon” (faith and trust) to serve as counterbalances to the angst and tension that generally accompany agricultural activities. So many things are simply beyond the farmer’s control: will it rain sufficiently; will insects destroy the fruits and vegetables; will fungi and other diseases devastate the year’s harvest; will there be an early frost? Even once everything is ready for picking, will anything happen that will occasion portions of the crop to be lost? Consequently, when all has been successfully harvested, not only can the farmer first begin to appreciate the largesse that is his, but he can finally breathe a sigh of relief that all of the manifold fears and dangers did not come to pass. For someone at that point not to acknowledge his debt of gratitude to HaShem after all that has taken place, would constitute a considerable manifestation of ingratitude and self-absorption. But when it comes time to choose what ought to be offered, if all that a person is ready to part with is what he thinks that he can best do without, as opposed to sharing the choicest and the best, a study in the psychology of how one ought to acknowledge having come through a difficult period becomes apparent. Perhaps the difference in approaches of Kayin and Hevel in light of HaKetav VeHaKabbala’s interpretation can be categorized as a question of emphasis with regard to the partnership between God and man in all earthly endeavors—do I give myself the bulk of the credit when a project is successfully completed, and therefore HaShem’s Role is no more than secondary and simply Enabling, OR must I recognize that whatever I may accomplish, this is primarily the result of God’s Intervention and therefore He is due the bulk of the credit.  A person busy patting himself on the shoulder will not think of sacrifice; the individual who genuinely appreciates God’s Hand in his success, will not think of not expressing his appreciation, and sacrifice answers such a need.

“Turning the clock back” and positing that Kayin and Hevel’s father, Adam, was the first to offer sacrifices.

The Midrash cited above by HaK’tav VeHaKabbala attributes to Adam HaRishon the idea of sacrifices, despite the fact that within the text of Beraishit, there is no indication that anyone other than Kayin and Hevel initiate this practice. Yet no lesser Rabbinic light than RaMBaM posits that not only may Adam have verbally encouraged his sons to sacrifice as suggested by Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, but that he himself engaged in offerings to HaShem, thereby linking sacrificing to God with the first human being described in Chumash.

Mishna Tora, Hilchot Beit HaBechira 2:2

And it is a tradition that is widely held (lit. “in the hands of everyone”) that the place in which David intended to build and upon which Shlomo actually built the altar (of the First Temple), the granary of Aravna (II Shmuel 24:16),  was the same place where Avraham had built the altar upon which he sacrificed Yitzchak (Beraishit 22:9); the same place where Noach had built an altar upon his emergence from the Ark (Beraishit 8:20); the same place wherein Kayin and Hevel offered their sacrifices (Beraishit 4:3); [11] AND IN THIS PLACE ADAM HARISHON OFFERED UP A SACRIFICE WHEN HE WAS CREATED, AND IT IS FROM THIS PLACE THAT HE WAS CREATED (!),[12]as the Sages said, (a paraphrase of Yerushalmi Nazir 7:2, 35b)[13] “Adam was created from the place of his atonement.”[14]

An option or a necessity?

Once it is suggested that not only did Adam himself sacrifice but that it was intrinsic to his nature as a result of his having been created from the very material that would eventually constitute the altars of the Temples, sacrifice is no longer to be viewed as an idiosyncratic practice of certain individuals in the Bible that was finally institutionalized at Sinai, and everyone else being able to “take it or leave it”, but rather a necessary and intrinsic characteristic of human nature from the “get go”.  If Adam was the one who told Kayin and Hevel to sacrifice, he must have been educating them as to their existential natures. Repentance and atonement are part and parcel of the human condition. By virtue of having been given free choice by HaShem—Chava appears to exercise it BEFORE she eats from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, by virtue of CHOOSING to eat from it in the first place[15] —man has the capacity to sin and therefore will have to be given the means by which to atone for these expected shortcomings. Furthermore, Adam HaRishon must have been the first to bring a sacrifice as a SIN offering in an effort to atone for the transgression that resulted in him and his wife being banished from the Garden of Eden.

The implications for subsequent offerings once we posit Adam as an inherent and natural sacrificer, would include that the urge to sacrifice wells up from the depths of the human being who shares a literal affinity with both altar and sacrifices. A sacrifice speaks to our inadequacies and we are trying to both acknowledge them and gain forgiveness for them. Whereas RaMBaN on VaYikra 1:9 has argued that the individual bringing the sacrifice should imagine him/herself as being offered up but for God’s Grace and Capacity for forgiveness (see http://text.rcarabbis.org/competing-visions-of-the-purpose-of-korbanot-by-yaakov-bieler/ ), the line of reasoning suggested by the Yerushalmi and RaMBaM, which posits that man has a more personal connection with the altar than with what is placed atop it, promotes the idea that atonement is not alien or artificial, but rather lies at the heart of man’s very nature.


[1] See R. David Tzvee Hoffmann’s introduction in his work, Sefer VaYikra, Vol. 1, pp. 64-5. for applications of this approach to additional cases of sacrifices in Beraishit offered by Noach, Avraham and Yaakov.

[2] The Tora does not disclose the motivations of either Kayin or Hevel with respect to the offerings that each presents. It is to be noted that Kayin is the brother who initiates the sacrifices, with Hevel appearing to merely copy his older sibling’s action (Beraishit 4:4 “VeHevel Heivih GAM HUH…” [And Hevel ALSO brought]), although the latter ends up doing Kayin “one better” with respect to the quality of the sacrifice. Only the slightest hint can be detected in Beraishit 4:4-5. The text does not state merely that HaShem accepted the sacrifice of one and not the other, but rather “And God Turned towards Hevel and his sacrifice; and towards Kayin and his sacrifice He did not Turn…” By stressing that what was being evaluated was not only the offering, but the individual offering it, the text suggests that in addition to the act being performed correctly, it must be accompanied with proper intention and motivation. However, the precise nature of that motivation is not delineated.

[3] Kayin brings “MiPeri HaAdama” (from the fruits of the ground) which, in contrast to Hevel’s “first-born and fattest animals”, lacked any sort of superlative adjective or noun. No notice would have been taken of the implications of the “non-description” of Kayin’s sacrifice had there not been another sacrifice with which to compare it. But in light of the contrast in descriptions, Kayin’s sacrifice is retroactively understood by the Midrashim and commentators to not only not be the best that Kayin had available, but that it was actually comprised of below-average vegetables and crops. The Rabbis declare that what Kayin presented as a sacrifice was of inferior quality; food stuffs for which Kayin had no personal need or use.

[4] While Klee Yakar’s  approach is certainly creative, to assert that Hevel experienced intimation of mortality would appear difficult to posit since at least no human being to this point had actually died. Although HaShem’s original threat to Adam regarding what would happen should he not heed the warning to avoid eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil—(Beraishit 2:17 “But of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day that thou eatest thereof. thou shalt surely die”), as well as the basis for the decision to banish Adam and Chava from the Garden of Eden—(Ibid. 3:22 “And the LORD God said: ‘Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the Tree of Life, and eat, and live for ever‘”), suggest that Adam was informed at least theoretically that his life and that of his descendants would be finite, would they contemplate their actual ends as long as someone doesn’t actually experience the end of human life? Consequently, Klee Yakar’s approach would appear to be more homiletical intended to drive a point home to humanity in general, than an understanding that captures the actual sensibilities of Hevel at the moment of offering his sacrifice.

[5] With the exception of two specific instances, i.e., Avraham who is Told by HaShem to offer Yitzchak as a sacrifice (Beraishit 22:9) and Yaakov who offers sacrifices in fulfillment of a vow that he makes upon leaving the land of Israel (Beraishit 28:20-22; 35:1, 14), when the “Avot” usually offer sacrifices, they do so voluntarily rather than out of a sense of obligation. See Beraishit 12:7; 13:4, 18; 26:25; 28:18; 31:45. What the relationship might be between motivations underlying voluntary sacrifices as opposed to those that are obligatory is worthy of speculation.

[6] Examples of optional sacrifices include: Peace offerings (VaYikra 3:1-17), Thanksgiving offerings (7:12-15; 22:29-30), and those that are brought as the result of oral vows (7:16-17).

[7] See for e.g., Sefer HaChinuch’s explanation for  Mitzva 16, “Not to break a bone of the Pascal sacrifice”.

[8] Transgressions of Jewish law can take two basic forms:

a)  “Shev V’Al Ta’aseh” (lit. sit and do not do) or “Bitul Aseh” (the cancellation of a positive Commandment), i.e., passive non-compliance with a positive Commandment, e.g., a refusal to recite Kiddush on Friday night;

b)  “Kum VeAseh” (lit. rise up and do), i.e., an active violation of a negative prohibition, e.g., performing one of the 39 categories of forbidden creative physical activities on Shabbat.

Actively violating a prohibition is viewed by Jewish legal tradition as a more egregious challenge to HaShem’s Authority than passively choosing not to fulfill a positive Mitzva.

[9] The extra detail included by the Midrash to the effect that the sheep had never even been sheered, furthers the impression of Hevel’s intuitive spirituality. He apparently recognized that if an object is to be dedicated to God, not only must it be desirable in its own right in terms of appearance, but that it should not have been put to any other purpose prior to its dedication. In this regard, Hevel’s sacrifice parallels one of the requirements for the “Para Aduma” (the Red Heifer) in BaMidbar 19:2, as well as the animal utilized in the “Egla Arufa” (the calf whose neck is broken) ritual in Devarim 21:4.

[10] A ritual indicator of Nissan’s marking the spring harvest is the Omer Sacrifice whose offering on the second day of Pesach allows the usage of “Chadash” or winter wheat, crops that were first planted after the previous year’s Pesach. See VaYikra 23:14.

[11] No reference is made to the construction of an altar by Kayin and Hevel as in the other instances cited here. RaMBaM is merely being faithful to the biblical verses which in the other instances note that altars were constructed.

[12] RaMBaM is identifying the “Even Shetiya” [the rock from which Jewish tradition claims the entire universe was formed—see Yoma 52b—and which is located on the top of “Har HaBayit” (the Temple Mount) with Beraishit 2:7.

[13] The full text of the passage in the Yerushalmi reads:

Said R. Yehuda ben Pazi: He Took a spoonful (of dust/earth) from the place of the altar and created with it Adam HaRishon.

He Said, “If only he will be Created from the place of the altar, and thereby he will be able to continue to exist.”

This is what is meant when it is written, (Beraishit 2:7) “And HaShem Formed the man of dust from “HaAdama” (the earth).” And it is written, (Shemot 20:21) “An altar of “Adama” (dirt) you shall make for Me.” Just there (in Shemot) the reference is to an altar, so too here (in Beraishit) the reference is to an altar.

[14] In Guide for the Perplexed 3:46, RaMBaM presents a critique of sacrifices. Consequently, his comment in Mishna Tora is somewhat surprising in light of RaMBaM’s apparent articulated disdain for Korbanot in the Guide. Some say RaMBaM wrote the Guide for the “Perplexed” and that the “real” RaMBaM is to be found in the Mishna Tora. Others suggest that there was an internal schism within the scholar with regard to scholarship and religious tradition. It would appear that if RaMBaM truly believed ChaZaL’s contention that HaShem Created man in such a way that he would be particularly predisposed to sacrifices, then how can it be said that He Objected to the offering of sacrifices, other than perspective assumed by the Nevi’im who intimated that while HaShem Wanted sacrifices, He was Displeased when the people offering them abused them.

[15] Beraishit 3:6 recounts: “And the woman saw that the tree was GOOD to eat and that it was DESIREABLE visually and it was PLEASANT with regard to intelligence…” If the negative aspect of partaking from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was that one would FIRST become aware of aesthetic considerations that could cloud moral judgment, then how was she seduced into eating from the Tree in the first place?

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