Vayikra: Letters of Courage

Dear Chevra, BS”D

Sefer Vayikra begins with a discussion of the sin and guilt-offerings. Before we bring an offering we first must recognize that we did wrong and take ownership for the wrong we committed.

Recently I gave unsolicited advice to a person who has been struggling with extremely challenging sholom bayis. My advice, although well intentioned, was hurtful. After reflecting on my unwanted comments, I recognized having done wrong. I called the person and apologized.

Many years earlier, out of foolishness, I hurt a neighbor deeply. This neighbor, was an Italian man with a love of cooking, so I picked a bag of tomatoes from the garden and brought it to him. Having righted the wrong, from that time on we were good friends.

My brother-in-law who served as a gabbei to Reb Levi Yitzchok Horowitz, the Bostoner Rebbe, zt”l, told me of an incident in which Reb Levi Yitzchok gave mussar to a seminary student. After she left, the Bostoner reflected on his words and decided that his mussar was too strong. He took ownership and sought to ask forgiveness and make amends. Not having any contact information or knowing which seminary this girl attended, the Bostoner sent his gabbaim to every seminary in Yerushalayim until they were finally able to convey his apologies.

A similar story is told about Reb Yoel Teitelbaum, the Satmar Rebbe, zy”a. A man from Eretz Yisroel found himself by the Rebbe’s Pesach seder. This man was very exacting with the shiurim (measurements) of maror and matzo. The Rebbe began chepping (teasing) this man over his exactitude. Eventually, the guest retorted, “the Satmar Rav should know that there’s also a shiur for chepping (i.e. a time to stop teasing).” Taken aback, the Satmar Rav was uncharacteristically quiet for the remainder of the seder. After the first days of Pesach ended, the Satmar Rav called for this man and apologized. The man readily accepted the apology. The Rav asked why the man had left Eretz Yisroel for Pesach. The guest said he had come collecting for his oldest daughter’s wedding. The Satmar Rav asked how much money was needed. The answer was fourteen thousand dollars. The Satmar Rav handed this man a check for the full amount and told him, from that point forward, when marrying off a daughter he shouldn’t leave Eretz Yisroel, but should send a letter stating the amount needed and that he (the Satmar Rav) would pay the full amount.

Whether between man and God, or between man and man, when we do wrong we become small and disconnected from Hashem, the Source of all Goodness. In such a state there is no way we can feel good about ourselves. But when we recognize having done wrong and take ownership for our wrongdoing we become responsible, and having become responsible we become bigger than we were before the transgression. This is a downfall before an ascent. When we take responsibility we become big. As Jews we are meant to be responsible, we are meant to be big. While the Beis HaMikdash stood, sacrificing guilt and sin offerings, with the requisite intentions, made us big. Without a Temple, we may no longer be able to bring physical offerings, but by recognizing and taking ownership of our mistakes followed by real and tangible steps to rectify those mistakes and carry on, we create a stronger bond between ourselves and Hashem and between ourselves and our fellows than previously existed. We become spiritually bigger, more responsible and more mature than we previously were; and we can feel good about ourselves.

Have a wonderful Shabbos,

Binyamin Klempner

About the Author
At the age of 17 Binyamin Klempner left Teaneck, NJ to pursue a simple existence on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Northern Montana. While residing on the Blackfeet Reservation he discovered the beauty of his Jewish Heritage and traveled to Boston to learn about Jewish life from the Bostoner Rebber, Reb Levi Yitzchok Horowitz, zy"a. From Boston he traveled to Zichron Yaakov where he studied in Yeshiva for a number of years. From there he married and lived with his wife in Milwaukee, WI while studying under HaRav Michel Twerski, shlita. During this time Binyamin also earned a Masters Degree in Social Work. After working as a social worker for several years he moved with my wife and kids to Tiveria, Israel where he works as an organic farmer and homesteader.