Parshat Vayikra: The sweet fragrance of goodness
We have mentioned often in previous commentaries on this portion that the animal offerings referred in the Torah represent the elevation to the Creator of all traits and qualities that encompass life in the human form, in all levels and expressions of consciousness. Our sages make differences between these aspects, dividing the “soul” in five domains, and the one quoted in this verse is what they call “the animal soul” in order to relate it to the “animal offerings” mentioned in this portion.
“And when a soul brings near an offering, a present to the Lord, of flour is his offering, and he has poured on it oil, and has put on it frankincense.” (Vayikra 2:1)
Based on this, it makes sense that our Creator wants us to elevate aspects tightly linked to our “animal” nature, and not necessarily those already close to Him. Our sages relate to the latter as inherent to the intellect, reason and discernment. In these circumstances we are invited to ponder on the dynamics of our animal soul, for its traits and qualities are what we are commanded to offer to God as a present for Him.
Some of our modern sages identify the animal soul as the driving force that secures self-preservation in the world, that manifests itself as instinct; while others define it as a wider force contemporaries equate to ego, which makes it more intricate to categorize and hence harder to control by the higher levels of the soul. In such circumstances we realize that living with this complex diversity in human consciousness is not an easy task, particularly when we have to deal with other individuals in the same predicament.
In addition to this, we must consider the different and often opposed conceptions and perceptions among humankind in regards to approaching individual and collective realities. In this context, the Creator commands Israel to take His approach to life and the material world as stated in the Torah with its 613 commandments. The underlying principle of them is to make goodness prevail in all aspects and expressions of human life, and as the encompassing, unifying and harmonizing means to bring the instinctual driving forces in our animal soul to the common goal of pursuing and maintaining goodness in all facets of life.
In this process ego is the leading player the higher soul needs to persuade in order to fulfill God’s particular commandment to create for Him a place in the material world to dwell among (in) us. We can simplify this divine request by saying that for it to be fulfilled, our ego must create that place in ourselves by becoming an empty vessel to be filled with God’s will.
This task is achieved as we engage all our diverse and sometimes conflicting traits and creative trends of our mind, emotions, feelings and instincts into goodness for the purpose of goodness. This brings our intellect, reasoning and discernment to our animal soul to choose either to live by the goodness of love’s ways and attributes or ego’s materialistic fantasies and illusions.
Many of us are already living in the latter, and the verse quoted above invites to return to goodness as the unifying and harmonizing principle in God’s creation. Hence we must leave behind our fantasies and illusions, and elevate the goodness in us to the goodness of God as one and the same. In this bonding the spirit of our animal soul ascends to Him, as the pleasing aroma He wants us to delight in goodness.
“(…), a fire-offering of sweet fragrance to the Lord.” (2:2)