Parashat Vayikra
March 26 – April 1, 2017 – 5 Nissan 5777
Annual (Leviticus 1:1-5:26): Etz Hayim p. 585-605; Hertz p. 410-423
Triennial (Leviticus 1:1-2:16): Etz Hayim p. 585-592; Hertz p. 410-415
Haftarah (Isaiah 43:21-44:23): Etz Hayim p. 606-612; Hertz p. 424-428


The Blind Leading the Lame
Ilana Kurshan, Jerusalem, author of If All the Seas Were Ink, a memoir about Talmud study forthcoming from St. Martin’s Press.

Parashat Vayikra begins the Torah’s discussion of sacrificial law. In introducing the various sacrifices, the Torah refers to what happens “when adam (any “person”) presents an offering of cattle to the Lord” (1:2).  In contrast, one who brings a sin offering or a guilt offering is described as a nefesh, a “soul” (5:1). Why is a person who brings the sin or guilt offering not referred to also as an adam “person”? The midrash, picking up on this variation in language, offers a parable that sheds light on the nature of sin and the way we respond to our own acts of wrongdoing:

[It is like] a king who had an orchard with beautiful figs. He set two guards in it, one lame and one blind. He said to them: “Guard the figs,” and he left them there and went on his way. The lame man said to the blind man: “I see beautiful figs.” The blind man said: “Bring them here, and we’ll eat them.” The lame man said: “But I can’t walk.” The blind man said: “And I can’t see.” What did they do? The lame man rode astride the blind man and they took the figs and ate them…The king came and said: “Where are the figs?” The blind man said: “Do I see?” The lame man said: “Can I walk?”  The wise king placed the lame man astride the blind one and judged them as one. (Leviticus Rabba 4:5)

The midrash explains that in the world to come the soul and body will blame one another for the individual’s sins, but God will judge them as one. The midrash takes us back to the beginning of time, when Adam and Eve covered themselves with fig leaves and tried to cast blame elsewhere for the fruit they ate; and it also looks forward to the end of time, when human beings will be held accountable for their actions.

And yet the midrash does not entirely explain the Torah’s language.  According to the parable, it is not just the soul that is blamed, since both the body and soul incriminate one another. Perhaps the Torah uses the term nefesh rather than adam to explain that while it takes both body and soul to sin, the individual who has committed a sin will find himself with body and soul at odds with one another, blaming each other for the wrongdoing. The sinner, having sinned, becomes a fragmented individual, caught up in an internal struggle. Such an individual cannot be an adam, a whole person.

If so, then we might consider the shelamim—the well-being/peace offering—as the opposite of the sin and guilt offerings. The word shelamim comes from the Hebrew words shalom and shalem, meaning peace and wholeness. The shelamim sacrifice, once offered, is shared by the donors and priests. Whereas the individual who has sinned is caught up in an inner conflict, the individual who is whole and has achieved inner peace can reach out and share with others.

Instead of harnessing the blind to the lame, may we harness our eyes and our legs to seek out goodness and justice and run after them.  May we strive to live integrated lives, united in body and soul, and may we be like the sons of Aaron who not only offered sacrifices in the Temple, but also loved peace and pursued it.

A Vort for Parashat Vayikra
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty

Rashi comments on the opening words of Sefer Vayikra (Leviticus) that the gaps in the written Torah text were to give Moses a pause for reflection (revachl’hitbonen) between one section and another and between one matter and another, “something all the more necessary when one regular person is learning from another.”  The TaZ (Turei Zahav, R’ David ha-Levi Segal, Poland, 1586 – 1667) said that this comes to teach us derech eretz – proper behavior.  A person should not rely on his sharp mind (charifut sichlo) and assume that he masters things easily.  Impulsive conduct can lead to errors and mistakes.  One should learn from Moses to stop and reflect between one thing and the next.

Table Talk
Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty

We are starting the third book of the Torah – Vayikra.  Our Parasha deals with Korbanot (sacrifices) of various types, from various sources, and for various reasons. Paying attention to the details might give us some interesting insights.

1) The book of Vayikra was called by the rabbis Torat Kohanim (instruction for Kohanim).  What might this name teach us about the content of this book?  Why is it known as Vayikra?  Does its name in English, Leviticus, reflect the name Torat Kohanim or Vayikra?

2) In this Parasha we are introduced to 2 types of Korban, usually translated as a sacrifice.  Look at 1:2 and at 2:1; what are these Korbanot (=plural form of Korban) made of, and what distinguishes them from one another?

3) Why do you think that a person might want to bring a Korban to God?  If you have some background in Hebrew, consider that the root of the word Korban is קרב (to be near, draw close to). What light does this add to you understanding of the reasons for a Korban?

4) The first Koraban mentioned in the Parasha is Olah (literally: It [all] goes up) (1:2-9 and the rest of the chapter).  What actions are done by the person bringing the Korban and which are done by the Kohanim? Why do you think that there is a need for Kohanim at all in this process?

5) The first chapter gives a lengthy description for the first Korban (1:2-9).  What kind of animal may one bring?  It then mentions 2 other options (1:10-13).  What are they?  Why do you think that the Torah offers these other options?