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Home » Free Choice, Vayikra Parshah

Vayikra: When You Really Feel Like Helping

Submitted by on March 18, 2012 – 2:29 amNo Comment | 1,385 views

Sudden Inspirations
Are you ever seized by a sudden desire to do good? An elderly lady is crossing the street and you really feel like helping, you drop your son off at school and are struck by the feeling that you should be more involved with PTA or you go shopping for food and on impulse drop ten cans off at the food bank?

Aren’t these great moments? You walk away feeling so good about your new resolution and motivation. But if they feel so good, why do these inspirations disappear with the same sudden rapidity? Does it leave you confused when a moment ago you were inspired to invite your neighbor to the Torah class you’ve been attending and now you don’t even care to make the call? Do you worry about your integrity when last week you were scrupulous about buying only kosher food and now you are back to your old ways?

Fear not – you are totally normal. You aren’t alone; everyone around you is just like you. G-d made us all with a duel nature. We have a desire for goodness and holiness and a penchant for laziness and selfishness. Sometimes the good part in us prevails and at other times our laziness rises to the top. (1)

Now, when we make a deliberate effort to arouse our good side by making a list of resolutions and maintaining our commitment until we follow through, then it makes sense that our good side prevails. But what makes it pop out of the blue when we least expect it? Even more befuddling is, where and why does it go when it suddenly disappears?

Flames from Heaven
Our ancestors brought sacrifices on the altar in the Holy Temple. When a sacrifice was laid upon the altar a flame that had descended from heaven would consume the sacrifice. This heavenly flame could have consumed the sacrifice from above, yet the Torah required an ordinary flame to be kindled from below. The flame from below leaped toward heaven and the flame from above reached toward earth. Sandwiched between the flames, the sacrifice was kissed by both and ultimately consumed. (2)

Today there is no Temple and there is no altar, but there are still sacrifices and flames. We make the sacrifice of ourselves. Every time we resolve to do something for G-d we give up an opportunity to do something for ourselves. When we pray we give up time we could have used to relax. When we study we give up time we could have used to sleep. When we give to charity, it is money we could have spent on ourselves. These are the sacrifices of today.

The flames of today are our passion and inspiration. Just as there were two flames on the Temple’s Altar so are there two forms of inspiration available to us today. The first descends from heaven, the second is self generated.

The proper way to set up the Altar in the Temple was to kindle an earthly flame despite the heavenly flame that had descended. In our day this is represented by generating our own enthusiasm for a Mitzvah. The Talmud teaches that when we want to improve ourselves and become holy, an abundance of assistance and inspiration is made available to us from above. (3) But it should begin with a decision on our part to improve. We need to decide to draw closer to G-d and G-d will then draw us in from above. When it occurs this way, our resolutions have staying power. They feed on our enthusiasm, drive and resolve.

However, at times we go about our day completely oblivious to the Mitzvah opportunities in our path. We don’t resolve to do anything noble because we are unaware of what we aren’t doing. At such times G-d drops a kernel of inspiration into our hearts and awakens us to a particular Mitzvah. In the Temple’s day this would be akin to the heavenly flame consuming the sacrifice  without assistance from an earthly flame kindled below.

These flames or kernels of inspiration can descend, but they sputter and die quickly if they have no logs to sink into. They come and go. G-d inspires us to do something noble and we choose to hold onto that inspiration or to let it go. If we grasp the moment and internalize the desire by making the inspiration our own, it remains with us. If we set it aside and let our lazy and selfish side return, the inspiration fizzles.

From Among You
This helps us understand a curious verse in the Torah. In the opening lines of Leviticus we read, “When a man brings a sacrifice from you to the Lord; from animals, from cattle or from the flock you shall bring your sacrifice.” (4)

This verse seems lacking in syntax. It begins in the third person and ends in the second person. Further, what does it mean to bring a sacrifice from you? Should it not have read from among you?

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad Chassidism, offered a mystical explanation. (5) In his prophecy, Ezekiel envisioned a celestial throne. Above the throne he saw the image of a human, below the throne Ezekiel saw four faces, that of a human, a lion, an eagle and an ox. (6)

The mystics understood the human atop the throne as a reference to G-d as He descends to interact with humans. At this level G-d filters His ideas so that they relate to the human mind and heart and therefore appeared to Ezekiel in the image of a human. The four faces represent the human soul. Since the human has a noble and a beastly nature, the faces reflected both human and animal form.

Returning to our curious verse, the word man appears twice. The first time it refers to G-d as He descends to interact with humanity, the second time it refers to us, human beings. The Torah offers an important lesson, but to understand it we must realize that the word for sacrifice in Hebrew is Karban, which actually means to draw close. Now let’s read the verse in light of what we learned in this essay.

When a man,” when G-d lowers Himself to interact with the human, “brings a sacrifice,” draws close, ”from you,” [an element] from you – inspiring your noble side, but not yet your animal/lazy side, “to the Lord,” to do something holy and thus be closer to G-d, “from animals, from cattle or from the flock you shall bring your sacrifice,” respond by recruiting your animal side to the task.

In simple terms this means that when we receive an inspiration from above and we don’t stop to plan out precisely how and when we might follow through, our selfish and lazy side is liable to take over and steal us away from our good intentions. The proper way to respond to these intermittent inspirations is to recruit our animal side to the task and involve it in the planning and execution. When we do this our noble side prevails and our animal or lazy side willingly sacrifices its interests and time. This kind of inspiration has staying power. This kind of commitment enables our G-dly side to prevail.

Footnotes

  1. See Jeremiah 31: 26.
  2. Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 21b.
  3. Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 39a.
  4. Leviticus 1:2.
  5. Likutei Torah pp. 2-3. See also Sefer Mamarim 5172 pp. 211 – 219.
  6. Ezekiel 1: 10 and 26.

 

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