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Parashat Vayikra 5780 — 03/28/2020

Vayikra 1:1-5:26

If a person will sin and commit a treachery against Hashem by lying to his fellow regarding a deposit or a loan or a robbery, or by defrauding his fellow. (5:21)

Or haChaim posits that the Torah is speaking of three kinds of sins in this passage. First, the expression if a person will sin alludes to the sinner’s seizing of something that is not his. The second is alluded to by the phrase commit a treachery against Hashem. What the person has done by stealing something that belonged to his fellow is to rearrange the order of things that was decreed by Hashem. The reason each of us has what we have is that those are the resources we need to complete our assigned tasks. If we appropriate someone else’s resources, then neither of us will be doing what we’re supposed to be doing. Our Sages say that we cause Gd the “trouble” of having to straighten things out and get the resources back in the hands of the appropriate people.

The third aspect comes from the phrase lying to his fellow. By denying the plaintiff’s legitimate claim, he makes his fellow out to be a liar, causing him to lose standing in the community and generally besmirching his name, in addition, of course, to stealing his property.

On a deeper level, Or haChaim discusses the spiritual harms that are caused by sin.

[The verse] is also alluding to three evil things caused by the soul of a person who acts wickedly. One is that its own light and stature become diminished as a result. And that is hinted to by the statement, If a person (literally, a soul) shall sin. The expression techetah [RAR: from the root chet = sin] may be interpreted to mean shall become deficient, indicating a deficiency in the soul of the sinner itself.
   The second is alluded to by the words, and commit a treachery against Hashem. This may be understood in accordance with a statement of the masters of the wisdom of Kabbalah, that there is no soul among the Jewish people which does not have a spirit of life flowing down to it from on High, which enables it to exist and without which it could not live. This is with the exception of a soul that emits foul odor and stench by having committed a severely punishable sin, causing the Divine flow to be cut off from it, as it states in regard to such sins (Bereishit 17:14 et al.), that soul shall be cut off. Now, this flow reaches the soul by way of two narrow cords that extend through the two nostrils; and that is the channel through which the soul is attached to its Creator and through which it receives life, as it says (Devarim 4:4), But you who are attached to Hashem, your Gd – you are all alive today. But when a person commits sins such as those discussed in our passage, that soul of his and its flow of life are dominated by the “outside forces” (i.e., the forces of impurity), as is well-known, and those wicked forces of impurity benefit from the Divine flow of life and derive their sustenance from it. That is what our verse means when it says, and commit treachery (ma’al) against Hashem, for as mentioned above, the word ma’al is an expression of perversion and change from an intended state. This means that one who sins has, so to speak, perverted the life-giving light that emanates from [Hashem] and delivered it to the forces of impurity.
   The third form of evil perpetrated by the sinner is that he also causes a decrease in the Divine flow of life to the Congregation of Israel as a whole, meaning that since the entire Jewish people is considered as one entity, the evil act of one person among them brings evil upon the entire “shoot of Hashem’s planting.” This, then, is what the verse alludes to when it says, v’chichesh (and lies) against his fellow. The word v’chichesh may be interpreted as and he shall “weaken” (the Divine flow of life); for when a person sins, not only does he himself become deprived of the Divine flow of life, but his fellow also becomes deprived on his account, may the Merciful One spare us.

Or haChaim is describing a layered structure here, of which the physical layer is just a thin crust on the surface of a much deeper, spiritual layer. The physical layer is that it is wrong to steal, whether it be an armed robbery or white-collar crime, or “legal” stealing through a corrupt system of laws or corrupt enforcement of good laws. This is so obvious that it is one of the Noachide laws that everyone, Jewish or not, is responsible for following. One cannot have a society where there is no trust between the members.

On a deeper level, we find that there is a reason why each of us has what we have. We each have a mission to complete while we have a physical body, and we require certain resources, physical, psychological, emotional, in order to complete that mission. The resources we have are appropriate for us to complete our mission, and other people’s resources are what they need to complete their mission. Once we understand life this way, stealing is virtually impossible, because we recognize it as a pointless waste of time and energy, which only distracts us from what we’re supposed to be doing. But such an understanding requires us to see beyond the physical.

A deeper level of understanding is that our very life is dependent on a continual flow of Divine grace and energy, and that continuing that flow depends critically on keeping the pipeline between our individuality and Gd’s universality clean and unobstructed. When we act in contravention to Gd’s Will, this pipeline becomes distorted and, according to Or haChaim, leaky. Instead of nourishing our soul, which is now less capable of receiving Gd’s effulgence, our pipeline backs up like a toilet, overflowing and feeding our waste to the critters on the floor. This is more than a waste – it is a perversion of Gd’s goodness. And since all Israel, indeed all humanity, is interconnected, our failings are detrimental to the whole nation, and, I would add, the whole world. The upshot is clear – do the right thing and live!

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Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Vayikra

“Vayikra” means “and He Called.”  Gd called to Moses to describe to him the Five Offerings—“Offerings” in Hebrew is “korbanot” which means “draw near.”

The Five Offerings (Korbanot):

  • Fire: to atone.
  • Meal: a gift from one whose life is dedicated to generosity.
  • Peace: made when making peace with others by dedicating one’s life to Gd.
  • Trespass: to compensate for unintentional infringement on others’ rights.
  • Sin: paid in full the debt of one’s unintentional failures and weaknesses, failures of one’s personality.

“Atonement” means “at-Onement” – restoring our awareness so we remember that we are a fascinating role that Gd is Playing within Gd. What we really offered when we offered the physical offerings in the days of the Tabernacle in the Wilderness and of the First and Second Temple was ourselves: we offered the limits of ourselves to Gd to dissolve them in the Fire of Love so as to restore us to Wholeness, Oneness, Fulfillment.

This is what we do today when we use prayers instead of physical offerings: we offer our limits to Gd to Dissolve them in the Fire of Love and to Restore us to Wholeness, Oneness, Fulfillment.

And this is what we do today, whether formally praying or in the midst of the rest of the activities of our life: Through our right actions in any way, we draw near: we draw near with our innocence, our naturalness, our kindness, our gratitude. We draw near with our simple, easy life that seeks to be in attunement with Gd and Gd’s Will, seeks to easily (but quickly!) return to Primordial Oneness, beyond the duality of Gd and soul, the Oneness within which all multiplicity exists as expressions.

Ahhh! Little by little: and suddenly! Home free! Home!

Baruch HaShem