Torah Fax
Friday, May 12, 2006 - 14 Iyar, 5766

Torah Reading: Emor (Leviticus 21:1 - 24:23)
Candle Lighting Time: 7:45 PM
Shabbat Ends: 8:52 PM
Pirkei Avot: Chapter 4
Shabbat is 30 days of the Omer Omer
Feeling Generous?
This week's parsha presents us with an unusual list of restrictions regarding animal sacrifices: "When an ox... is born, it shall be for seven days under its mother and from the eighth day on it is acceptable as a fire offering to G‑d. And you shall not slaughter it and its offspring on the same day. And when you offer a thanksgiving-offering.... On the same day it shall be eaten; you shall not let any of it remain until morning."
The question may be asked, why all these rules and regulations? Why must we wait for an animal to be 8 days old before offering it as a sacrifice? Why can't some of the thanksgiving offering be left until the morning? If one left some of the offering over, does that mean the person feels less thankful to G‑d?
It is puzzling that the Torah would put any restrictions on a voluntary offering that is expressive of one's feelings of devotion for G‑d.
The question becomes even more pronounced when we consider a salient difference between a sacrifice in the Temple and a charitable contribution. When one donates to a needy and worthy individual or organization, the most important thing is to determine what is best for the recipient, not best for the donor. By contrast, an offering made to G‑d has obviously nothing to do with G‑d's needs, but with our sense of devotion to Him; that we are willing to part with our precious resources and offer them to G‑d. It would have made more sense to place restrictions on charitable donations that cater to the needs of the recipient(s). There seems to be no apparent reason for imposing so many restrictions on the dedicated servant of G‑d who wishes to demonstrate his or her faith in and devotion for Him.
One answer lies at the heart of the definition of devotion to another, whether the other is G‑d or another individual.
A human being is both a selfish and selfless being. There is hardly a person who is so altruistic that he would never consider his own interest. Conversely, there is rarely a person whose ego is so inflated that they are always and totally selfish. Every human being, possesses the paradoxical nature of self-consciousness and self-effacing surrender to another. Differences between people in this regard are primarily in terms of balance and ratio. In one individual the selfish interest dominates, whereas another will be governed primarily by his selfless character.
And what is true for diverse individuals is also true with regard to each and every person. Each one of us will undergo fluctuations in the way we perceive ourselves and the way we perceive others. On certain occasions, we look out for ourselves exclusively, and on other occasions we seem to be focused on the needs of others.
Moreover, each and every action that we undertake is an expression of both selfhood and "other"-hood. Whenever we do a Mitzvah, even for the most idealistic reasons, there will invariably be a sense of satisfaction that we have done something good.  
And, while, generally speaking, there is nothing wrong with having a sense of fulfillment and joy at having done a good thing, there are times and places for that. Before we do the Mitzvah, we may be motivated to do good for an ulterior motive. Likewise, after we complete the fulfillment of the Mitzvah, it would be innocuous to feel a sense of gratification for having done the right thing. But while the Mitzvah/offering is being made, it is crucial that our focus is strictly on G‑d for whom the Mitzvah is being performed and to whom the offering is being made. After all, that is the definition of an offering: I am giving of myself to the other - with the emphasis on the other.
Left to our devices, most of us would gravitate towards doing things in a selfish manner. To dispel, or at least to minimize, the inevitable sense of ego that would accompany the average person's offering and to ensure that we do not lose sight of what and why we are bringing this offering, the Torah gave us specific restrictions as to how we do it. These restrictions serve as constant reminders that the offering was for and about G‑d, not necessarily an expression of our personal charitable feelings - no matter how lofty they may be.
If there are times in our life when we are more selfless and times that we are more selfish, the same can be said about the state of the world. In times of spiritual awakening, when G‑d's presence was clearly felt in this world, such as when the Temple existed, we were more G‑d conscious and selfless. By contrast, in the times of exile, there is an obvious screening of G‑d's presence, which translates in a greater emphasis on ourselves and less on G‑d and the needs of others.
As we approach the end of the exile period, however, and are on the bridge that links the present exile period with the future Messianic Age, we are witness to a paradoxical phenomenon:
On the one hand, we sometimes see selfishness and disregard for the well-being of others. But we can also find unprecedented outpourings of selflessness in other areas and people.
Our task today is to "tap" into the Messianic energies of the future, by being more sensitive to the nuances of each of the Mitzvot that cultivate the G‑d-awareness aspect of our nature. In that way, we can cross over the bridge from the land of selfishness to the world of selflessness.
Moshiach Matters
After the passing of his wife Sara, Abraham purchased the field in Hebron with the Cave of Machpelah as a burial place. This purchase represents the beginning of the general redemption of all Jews. The commentary Pa'ane'ach Raza explains that with the 400 silver shekels that Abraham paid (Gen. 23:16), he purchased one square cubit of the Land of Israel for every one of the 600,000 root-souls of the Children of Israel. (From Discover Moshiach)
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