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Home » Animal Rights, Life Is Beautiful, Vayikra Parshah

Vayikra: The Power to Please

Submitted by on March 10, 2013 – 5:35 amNo Comment | 2,729 views

The Sin Offering

The sacrificial offerings in the Temple secured atonement for the inadvertent sins of their bearers. This prompts a question: To bring such offerings is a Divine commandment, how does fulfilling one commandment atone for transgressing another? If your student failed to do his homework but was respectful during class, would that make up for his missed homework? One doesn’t make up for the other. He is required to do both and the lack of one isn’t filled by the other.

What Makes You Forgive?

In truth, the example of the student doesn’t truly capture the power of an offering. To better understand the offering’s power of atonement I would offer a different example. Suppose your son failed to do his chores and you were upset with him. Suppose that the next morning he offered you a cup of coffee saying, I know you like coffee in the morning so I made you some. Now this is a different scenario. Now you are delighted, you melt within because your son touched your heart.

It’s not the coffee that touches you; it’s that he did something he knew you wanted. It pleases us deeply to know that someone did something for no other reason, but to please us. Your son knows you like coffee so he took the time to make it. In fact, if the coffee he made were bitter, you would be pleased no less. It’s not the coffee that touches you, but the gesture. It strikes a chord deep within and sparks an exhilarating moment of delight. It is a gesture with the power to please.the power to please - innerstream

The Torah describes the offering as a pleasing fragrance to G-d. Classic Jewish thought interpreted the pleasing fragrance as a reference G-d being pleased when He speaks and His will is fulfilled.[1] It is like the pleasure we take from having our wish granted, it is not what we were given that brings pleasure, but that we desired, and it was provided.

Every commandment is an expression of G-d’s will, but our offerings are delightful for G-d. Desires are triggered by the delight they bring; because we know it would please us, therefore we desire it. Yet, it is possible to get caught up in the details of the desire and lose sight of its purpose, to bring us pleasure.

Take for example one who fulfills the ritual and forgets that it brings G-d pleasure. Such practice quickly loses its appeal because we lose sight of the ritual’s meaning. It seems empty and devoid of purpose. Under such circumstances it is no surprise that we lose interest in the ritual and begin to neglect it. We ask ourselves why we should bother if it leaves us feeling empty and unsatisfied. One way to make ritual exciting again is to focus on its meaning and purpose. To remember that our observance gives G-d pleasure and unites us with His supernal will.

In the Temple the way to reconnect with the meaning of rituals was through sacrificial offerings. When one offered a sacrifice one reflected on what G-d said with respect to the offerings, that He is pleased that His will was fulfilled. As we think about this we remember that rituals are not just meaningless hoops that G-d puts us through for no good reason other than He wants to. We remember that G-d desires a relationship with us and that we have the power to please G-d as it were. He is delighted, when He speaks and we do His bidding.

When we bring an offering we connect with G-d on the deepest level not very different from the way we connect with our children when they bring us something they know we want. Despite their previous indiscretions we embrace them again with full forgiveness for they have touched us deeply and released a torrent of love. They have pleased us. Even more, they triggered a deep seated delight.

Why the Offering?

Granted that G-d spoke of offerings as something that delights Him, but the question remains, why do offerings delight G-d more than other Mitzvot? All commandments are expressions of G-d’s will and every time we fulfill His will it brings Him pleasure. Why do offerings stand out in this respect?

The difference between humans and animals is that animals are inherently selfish, incapable of true altruism, They march to their own tune and only do what is good for them. A dog is intensely loyal, but only because loyalty is its nature, it is incapable of betrayal. The animal never knows the joy of reaching beyond itself and doing for another. It never knows the thrill of pleasing others because others are only pleased when you do something for them, not when you do it because you want or have to. Animals only do what they want and must and thus never truly please.

Humans on the other hand are capable of reaching beyond and touching others. They know they can make a difference in another’s life and take great pleasure from doing so. A human knows the thrill of mattering very much to another and of providing for their needs. But has it ever occurred to you that G-d has proverbial needs too? G-d gave us a whole list of His needs in the Torah. He told us that only we are capable of filling those needs and fulfilling His will. Yet we selfishly ignored G-d’s interests and went about taking care of our own.

When we offer a sacrifice and watch the animal raised up on the altar we stop and reflect on our own animal like behavior. We acknowledge that we have allowed our selfish side to take us too far and in the process neglected the greatest thrill in life, providing for another – especially when that other is G-d.

We stop and marvel over how incredible it is that we, in our limited capacity, can make such a big difference to a perfect G-d. Why would He need little old me? That is a question we will never answer, but in His wisdom He chose to need us and so it is. The mind blowing truth is that we can do for G-d. We stopped keeping Shabbat or kosher or praying daily because it didn’t work for us, it wasn’t serving our needs, but we forgot that it never was about our needs, it was about G-d’s needs.

At this point we regret our selfish choices and resolve to return to the business of serving G-d. We return to the thrill of providing for G-d and of knowing that what we do makes a big difference to Him. He wants a relationship with us and because He does, we resolve to embrace Him. And G-d is pleased the way you are when your son brings you coffee. Because You willed it and your son provided it. [2]

[1] Rashi’s commentary to Exodus 29: 18.

[3] This essay is based on a Chassidic Discourse by the Lubavitcher Rebbe on Parshat Parah, 5718.

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