Torah for the Times  

Friday, March 15 - Nissan 3, 5773 

Torah Reading: Vayikra (Leviticus 1:1 - 5:26)
Candle Lighting Time: 6:44 PM

Shabbat ends: 7:45 PM  

Have You Brought A Korban Recently? 

 Anatomy of Gematria

Gematria is the term used in rabbinic literature that translates roughly as numerology. In Torah interpretation, Gematria is a legitimate and serious method of establishing connections between words and concepts and is even employed by the Talmud in matters of Jewish law.

Thus, when we see the numerical equivalency of two apparently unrelated words, it is an indication that on some level there is a thematic connection between them. The field of gematria is not a free-for-all, where anyone can find the numerical equivalency between two words and draw unwarranted conclusions. However, when we already know the connections between words and concepts, the method of Gematria helps to buttress and flavor that knowledge.

In this week’s parsha, Vayikra, the Torah discusses the various offerings one would bring to the Beis Hamikdash - the Holy Temple. In the opening paragraph the Torah states:

“When a person among you brings an offering to G‑d, you should bring your offering from animals—from cattle, or from flocks.”

The Chassidic work, Zera Baruch  discovers that the two key Hebrew words of this verse—“korban lashsem-an offering to G‑d”—have the numerical value of 408.  That is also the numerical value of the three Hebrew words “tzom (a fast), kol (voice) and mammon (money).” These three terms can be found in our Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur liturgy above the corresponding words: “teshuvah (repentance or return), tefilah (prayer) and tzedakah (charity). For one’s repentance and return to the right path to be complete one is required to fast on Yom Kippur. Raising our voices in prayer, petitioning G‑d to forgive us, is indispensable to getting close to Him. Sharing our money with the needy—giving charity—is crucial in getting G‑d to be charitable towards us and erases any negative decrees against us that may have resulted from our errant behavior and that may have caused us to become distant from him.

The Art of Getting Close

On the surface, the connection between these three elements, Teshuvah, Tefilah and Tzedakah, and the idea of bringing an offering to G‑d is quite clear. To come close to G‑d—which is the true meaning of the word for sacrifice or offering in Hebrew (korban)—one must do Teshuvah, pray and give Tzedakah. These three are crucial components of the process of getting close to G‑d.

Teshuvah involves self-transformation. If one’s current disposition is antithetical to G‑d, Teshuvah (which involves remorse for the past and resolve for the future) allows us to shed that negative past.

However, Teshuvah alone will not suffice. A person has to make a conscious effort to get close to G‑d and cannot rely on the fact that he or she has an altered personality. So if Teshuvah removes an impediment to getting close to G‑d, Tefilah constitutes the actual process of getting close.

On a deeper level, Teshuvah too is an important part of the process of getting close to G‑d, just as the word Teshuvah – return - implies.  Teshuvah is not merely removal of an impediment, it is also a movement in the right direction.

Tefilah goes beyond that. The word tefilah is related to the Hebrew word for attachment. Whereas Teshuvah leads us on the right path and brings us closer to G‑d, Tefilah is the end result of becoming attached to and bonding with Him.  

Tzedakah, the “Clincher”

What then, we may ask, is the role of Tzedakah in the process of getting close to G‑d? If we have removed the impediments and are now in a state of attachment to G‑d, what role does Tzedakah play? The question is not why is it important to give Tzedakah.   Rather, why is giving Tzedakah the third, and presumably the ultimate, step in bringing our korban?

One answer is that Tzedakah represents the most tangible expression of moving away from ourselves and our self-interest. Tzedakah involves taking our hard earned money and giving it to someone else.

Our spiritual emotions notwithstanding, without Tzedakah, there is no guarantee that our return and attachment to G‑d is real.  Even if it is genuine, there is no guarantee that the attachment will be sustained. Since we are essentially physical beings and creatures of habit, the way to ensure that our korban is genuine and sustainable we must engage in acts of Tzedakah.

The Keys to Redemption

We can now understand why our Talmudic Sages stated, “Israel will only be redeemed with Tzedakah.” The simple understanding of this statement is that G‑d rewards us “measure for measure.” If we give Tzedakah to those who are in need, G‑d reciprocates and performs the ultimate act of Tzedakah by taking us out of exile, with all of its impoverishing features.

In light of our previous analysis, there is an even more profound way of understanding the link between Tzedakah and Redemption.

Exile is not just a geographic term. It is a description of how distant we have become from G‑d. Exile is the antithesis of korban. Redemption is when we enjoy a complete return to G‑d. It is no wonder then that the word “korbano - his offering” that appears several times in the beginning of this week’s parsha has the same gematria value as Moshiach.

We bring about this collective korban by way of these three elements of Teshuvah, Tefilah and Tzedakah.

Parallel between Animal, Cattle and Flocks and Teshuvah Tefilah and Tzedakah

Now that we’ve established the connection between Teshuvah, Tefilah and Tzedakah on the one hand and a korban on the other, we can explore the connection in even greater detail. In this verse, the Torah speaks of the korban coming from: “animals—from cattle, or from flocks.” It may be suggested that the three elements of Teshuvah, Tefilah and Tzedakah parallel the three items, animal, cattle and flocks.

The “animal” to which this verse refers is not just the physical animal that was sacrificed. Chassidic literature understands the animal as a reference to the animal soul within us. It is this animal nature that stands in the way of our being able to get close to G‑d.

The antidote to the animal soul is fasting. Fasting should not be understood to mean exclusively desisting from eating. It includes all forms of suppressing our animal drives; but most significantly, it requires us to alter the animalistic way of thinking. This is what Teshuvah entails. Teshuvah involves a complete paradigm shift. Instead of thinking like an animal we must think like humans created in G‑d’s own image.

We are Only Human?

We often dismiss our inadequacies by saying “we are only human.” On the contrary, if we had acted the way our distinct human character dictates, we would not have fallen short of the mark. If we wanted to be more precise, we would say that it is the animal in us that causes us to act contrary to our humanity.

At any rate, to bring our korban we must change our animal way of viewing things. An animal will step on a rock, a one hundred dollar bill or a baby without making a distinction between them. An animal does not see beneath the surface. Our first challenge in bringing our own personal korban, and the collective korbon of the Redemption, is to see things through our open human eyes.

Messaging the Heart

The second reference in the verse is to “cattle.” The term cattle, generally, is used to represent the aggressive individual. He or she is filled with rage and, like the proverbial bull in a china shop, and steps and stomps his way through life. This is the person whose animalistic energy and passion can be channeled into holiness. That is the function of the voice of prayer. Prayer is the medium through which we vent our emotions and stir our passion to G‑d. Tefilah, we are told, is a time of battle. The G‑dly soul combats the aggression and passion of the animal soul. Tefilah focuses on the greatness of G‑d and is designed to excite the soul.

So, while the Teshuvah component of the korban creates a paradigm shift, changing the way we think, Tefilah works to massage the heart.

The third ingredient for getting us closer to G‑d and our Redemption is the final item in this verse, which is “flocks.” This term refers specifically to flocks of sheep, a timid and meek animal, and suggests the tamed, but hedonistic, animal soul. There is no aggression or passion here, just calm indulgence in the material world.

Tzedakah is the counterforce to the aspect of the animal soul that stands in the way of our return to G‑d.  Tzedakah involves taking our hard earned money, with which we could indulge the physical and material pleasures of the world even more, and giving it away.

The Three Powers of Royalty

The title accorded to Moshiach is Melech – King. The word Melech is said to be an acronym for mo’ach (brain), lev (heart) and ca’ved (liver). These three parts of the human anatomy parallel the three areas that we must tackle to bring about our total return to G‑d, which after all is the function of Moshiach.

First, Moshiach masters the mind. He possesses the most spiritually sophisticated approach to life. He sees things with open eyes. Second, Moshiach has the greatest passion for G‑d and for His people and suffers every moment that G‑d and the Jewish people are in exile. Third, Moshiach is one who has conquered his material desires (represented by the liver which is filled with blood, symbolizing physical pleasure). He has transformed his desire for the physical and for pleasure into the joy and bliss of spiritual delight.

To bring our personal and collective korban we must each incorporate into ourselves these three elements: Teshuvah (paradigm shift), Tefilah (stirring our passion) and Tzedakah (transforming our selfish and hedonistic desires into selfless acts of kindness).




Moshiach Matters 

In order for there to have been the great revelation of the Torah at Mount Sinai there had to be an exile in Egypt of 210 years. Similarly, in order that there should be the great revelation of the inner teachings of the Torah in the ultimate Redemption, this exile has had to be so long. (Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch)

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