Eliezer Shemtov
Trying to make a difference

Are you a Taurus, Capricorn or Aries?

Vayikra

No, this is not an article about astrology; it’s about the Parashá.

Very often people become depressed when they realize how complicated their character is and how difficult it is to overcome. “I can’t achieve my goals because… I’m too aggressive or rebellious… I’m too stubborn or indifferent… I’m too shy or lazy… ”

Is it true that some people are stubborn, lazy or aggressive?

Not necessarily. While many people have a tendency towards laziness, stubbornness or anger, that does not mean they are lazy, stubborn, or hot-headed.

According to what the Alter Rebbe explains in Tanya [1], each of us has two souls —two impulses— the one “animal” and the second one, “divine”. The animal soul is a captive of its natural survival instincts while the divine soul aims to go beyond itself, overcoming, dominating and channeling its animal neighbor, in it’s goal to connect with G-d. There is a constant struggle between the two souls, to be sure, and therein lies the great secret of life: man was created to deal with the constant tension between doing what his animal instinct wants and doing what —the divine soul, his conscience— dictates. 

Naturally, the animal has much more brute force than man. Unrestricted, it tends to be a destructive force; tamed, it can be  a very productive force. One can produce much more by plowing his field with a bull than by plowing it alone, King Solomon points out in Proverbs [2]. So, natural instincts are not what define their “host” but rather what his specific mission and potential might be. 

Let’s see how it works.

This week’s reading, Vayikra [3], opens with the theme of sacrifices [4]: “When a man among you brings an offering to the Eternal, you must bring it from the herd or from the flock.” Chassidic teachings [5] point out that the verse presents us with a syntactic anomaly. The text says: Adam ki yakriv mikem korban laHashem, which in a literal reading would mean: “When someone will sacrifice from you a sacrifice to G-d” (implying human sacrifices). Shouldn’t the order be reversed to read as Adam mikem ki yakriv, meaning, “When someone from among you will bring a sacrifice to G-d” (thus avoiding any ambiguity)?

Rabbi Schneur Zalman, founder of Chabad, explains it the following way [6]: The Hebrew word for sacrifice, korban, is related to the root Karev, or “near”. One of the implications of this is that the objective of bringing a sacrifice to the Temple was to bring oneself closer to G-d through it.

There are many explanations as to how one comes close to G-d by sacrificing an animal. Nachmanides [7] explains that when one brought a sacrifice as mandated in the Torah he or she was to visualize that everything that was done with the animal should have been done with them, and that G-d in his mercy allowed us to atone for our sins through the animal sacrifice brought in our stead. Rabbi Schneur Zalman explains that all the details outlined in the Torah regarding sacrifices, represent also a spiritual parallel in the process of sacrificing one’s personal animal soul. 

For example: animal sacrifices could only be brought from cattle, goats and sheep. These three types of animals and their respective natures represent three human characteristics that challenge one’s spiritual growth: aggressiveness (bull), stubbornness (goat), and meekness (sheep). There are those who, like the bull, have a rebellious and aggressive nature that leads them to aggressively challenge any authority including —or perhaps especially— the authority of G-d and His Torah. There are those, stubborn like a goat, who are not too interested in being challenged or inspired to move out of their comfort zone; they might, perhaps, have addictions that do not allow them to move out of their place very easily. And then there are those who, like the sheep, are meek and surrender their free choice to the dictates of popular trends, yielding to social pressure without defying others nor challenging themselves very much. 

In order to live life to the max, one must take control of the “animal” within. To do this, one needs to recognize and understand its specific nature, and according to that, determine what needs to be done in order to develop and exploit the positive potential it has.

The same is true on a very practical level, as well. If someone gifts you an animal, in order to fully appreciate it, you must determine which type of animal it is: if it is a cow, you can produce milk, and if you were given a sheep, you can produce wool. The same is true with regard to the spiritual animal you were gifted: If it is a bull, if you have an aggressive character, your mission is to tame it and then channel it for the good. Use your aggressiveness to defend just causes courageously, for example. If you are the rebellious type, you are very likely also creative. Use your creativity to rebel against useless and outdated systems and replace them with something better. If, like the sheep,  you have a passive character, and you are not a leader, recognize and embrace it and make sure to insert yourself into a healthy environment and system where you can contribute to a greater cause and be motivated to do good. If you are a foodie and have a strong relationship with food, for example, use your taste to promote good Kosher cuisine, for example.  Stubbornness also has its great value once it is applied in the right place and for a good purpose.

If you want to fulfill the life mission for which you were created, you cannot ignore your personal animal. You need to acknowledge it, tame it and channel it. You must recognize and understand it well, determine whether it is a “Taurus”, “Capricorn” or “Aries”, not in astrological terms, but in the terms we explained. You have to then “slaughter” it, thereby removing its independent life-force, so that you can be its master rather than its slave. Ultimately, the sacrifice was burned on the altar. On a personal level, transforming the meat into fire means sublimating the animal instinct and using it as a means to elevate yourself spiritually so that you can then impact the world around you for good even more.

So, this week’s tool is: don’t be afraid of your animal instincts, no matter how formidable they may seem to be; they are there to help determine your specific mission in life. With discipline, persistence and patience you will succeed in mastering and sublimating them, thereby being able to achieve much more than you would have been able to without them.

——-

  1. Chap. 1 and on.
  2. Proverbs 14:4
  3. Leviticus 1:1- 5:26
  4. Leviticus 1:2
  5. Likutei Torá, Vaikrá 2b
  6. Ibid
  7. Levítico 1:9
About the Author
Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov, born in in Brooklyn, NY in 1961. Received Smicha From Tomchei Temimim in 1984 and shortly after was sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, may his merit shield us, together with his wife Rachel to establish the first Beit Chabad in Montevideo, Uruguay and direct Chabad activities in that country. He has authored many articles on Judaism that have been published internationally. Since publishing his popular book on intermarriage, "Dear Rabbi, Why Can't I Marry Her?" he has authored several books in Spanish, English and Hebrew dealing with the challenges that the contemporary Jew has to deal with.
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