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Parshat Vayikra: If a Soul Gives

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In Kabbalah, there are two expressions of self that complement one another: chessed and gevurah, which can be thought of as a gas pedal and speed brake, respectively. Chessed is centered around giving, which is why it is used to describe charitable acts; an individual sharing, in whatever capacity, is self-expression through chessed. In contrast, gevurah entails boundaries and restrictions, often associated with discipline and toughness; an individual holding back, in whatever capacity, is self-expression through gevurah. It is important for the dynamic between the chessed and gevurah, like many other things, to be in balance within a person and within life itself. Without that oscillating harmony, life can feel uncontrollable.

The relationship between chessed and gevurah feels especially apropos in the context of Parshat Vayikra. At the start of the second perek, the Torah says, “When a soul presents a meal offering to Hashem, the offering shall be of choice flour,” and then it goes on to further describe that process (Vayikra 2:1). Given the focus of sacrificial offerings, the pasuk per se does not stand out in the parsha — but something else does.

Rashi draws attention to the Hebrew word, nefesh, literally translated as “soul” and understood as “individual,” citing a Gemarah that takes note of the diction. Why, Rabbi Yitzchak asks in Masechet Menachot 104b, does this pasuk specifies that a soul — or nefesh — presents the meal offering? “The Holy One, Blessed be He, said: Whose practice is it to bring a meal offering? A poor person — and I will consider as if he brought his soul before me.” This idea is echoed in Vaykira Rabbah 3:5, which Nehama Leibowitz quotes in her “New Studies in Vayikra. The Midrash tells the instance of a woman who brought a handful of flour, and the kohen scolded her: “See what she brought! What is it to eat and what is it to sacrifice?” The kohen later had a dream in which he was told not to scold the woman, for her handful of flour was equivalent to her soul. Here, too, the devotional giving is given great accolades.

There is surely something beautiful about individuals giving so greatly to Hashem that it is considered as if they gave Him their very souls. But at the same time, something feels discomforting about it. Is such extreme selflessness healthy? Of course, this question is an odd one in the conversation relating to Hashem, but it still seems to stand. Should there be any limit to the sacrifice we are willing to make for Hashem?

At the heart of that question is a deeper question regarding chessed and gevurah. If a car can drive but cannot stop or can stop but cannot drive, then something is wrong. Similarly, if we can only constantly give to others, we cannot say no and cannot place boundaries, then the dynamic becomes imbalanced and unhealthy. Similarly, if we never give and only enact rules and restrictions, then we are isolating ourselves. Thus, a relative and developing balance is crucial.

In terms of the meal offering, we can find greater clarity through Ibn Ezra. For him, the offering is defined by its optionality; those who want to bring it can bring it, and vice versa. Perhaps, then, we can suggest a more expansive understanding of the meal offering’s significance. If a soul gives, it gives authentically, healthily, and appropriately. When we transcend our own inhibitions and plug into our soul, the giving is natural and, in effect, good. The meal offering is valued not because it demands unrelenting sacrifice, rather it is because it demands soul-motivation, and if a soul gives, it always does so in perfect doses.

About the Author
Sruli Fruchter is a senior at Yeshiva University studying International and Global Affairs. He is passionate about Torah, self-growth, and bringing Hashem into every aspect of our lives. Sruli has vast experience in international relations, is the Editor in Chief of The Commentator, and the Host of the Soul Life Podcast, which can be found on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.
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