Opening (H)ours

The opening bars to a symphony are profoundly significant as they ingeniously introduce the musical themes and the prelude to the wider interpretations that will be developed. Similarly the opening words of a book set the tone. Vayikra begins in a curious manner, God is calling Moses through almost every possible means or words;

וַיִּקְרָ֖א אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֑ה וַיְדַבֵּ֤ר יְהֹוָה֙ אֵלָ֔יו מֵאֹ֥הֶל מוֹעֵ֖ד לֵאמֹֽר

God called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying:

He calls, speaks and says… Speak and say to the children of Israel… The build up is formidable, what is going to be said?

אָדָ֗ם כִּֽי־יַקְרִ֥יב מִכֶּ֛ם קרְבָּ֖ן לַֽיהֹוָ֑ה מִן־הַבְּהֵמָ֗ה מִן־הַבָּקָר֙ וּמִן־הַצֹּ֔אן תַּקְרִ֖יבוּ אֶת־קרְבַּנְכֶֽם׃

When any of you presents an offering of cattle to God: You shall choose your offering from the herd or from the flock.

The medieval commentator Rashi, like us, I imagine, is captivated by the use of the term Adam. He quotes from Vayikra Rabah; Why is this term for “person” employed here? Since the term also may refer to Adam, the first human, its use suggests the following comparison: what was the characteristic of the first man (אדם הראשון)? He did not offer sacrifice of anything acquired by way of robbery, since everything was his! So you, too, shall not offer anything acquired by way of robbery (Leviticus Rabbah 2:7).

After such a buildup this is quite a letdown. Why would we need such a warning when a person chooses and is so moved to offer a sacrifice? The romance of that moment in drawing near to God as the term and act of Korban indicates is depressingly crushed. What prompted Rashi to assume such a position. The conundrum is only strengthened by the continuation of the Midrash which Rashi chose not to include in his commentary;

דָּבָר אַחֵר, אָדָם, זֶה לְשׁוֹן חִבָּה וּלְשׁוֹן אַחֲוָה וּלְשׁוֹן רֵעוּת

Another explanation, the term Adam is an expression of love, companionship and friendship.

Notice how many tender phrases, conjuring the seventh of the seven blessings recited at a wedding. Surely this approach fittingly captures the romance and intimacy of the act of (self) sacrifice.

Perhaps Rashi was drawn to the first interpretation of the Midrash, because of the tragic continuation of the story in Bereishit where Adam’s own children quarreled over their sacrifices, this falling out lead to the very first murder. Rashi is not necessarily referring to theft of objects rather of mind. (גניבת הדעת). Do not allow your sacrifice to be influenced by what others may think. This is an approach suggested by the Kli Yakar, Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim of Luntshits (1550-1619). Adam being alone in the world was not motivated by what others may think, his purpose was purely altruistic. That is the presumption, live in this state of mind, where one’s service to God is not prompted by what others may think. That is a profound foresight not only for our relationship to God but also to each other, where our love, affection and respect is driven through this admiration focussed entirely on the other. In that sense the Midrash and Rashi are presenting two sides of the same coin. Encouraging a relationship that is made in heaven!

Shabbat shalom

About the Author
Shalom Orzach is a senior educator and consultant for the iCenter and serves on faculty for the Foundation for Jewish Camp. He was a scholar on the prestigious Jerusalem Fellows Program, following which he was the Executive Director for Jewish Renewal at the UJIA in England. Shalom is an acclaimed public speaker on contemporary Israel who brings extensive knowledge, humor and passion.
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