A miracle happened: the sun peaked out for a couple of lovely hours, and soft pinkish-green buds appeared cautiously on a few of the stick-like branches. That’s’ all. I’m happy. There’s hope.
Vayikrah – calling us to draw near:
When one teaches Torah at this season, the Book of Leviticus falls on you heavily. You cringe when you see it coming, wondering, if you can just avoid it and discuss the upcoming holiday of Pesach – there is so much to say! or maybe look back at the mishkan – there was just not enough time for all the details… or just about anything. And yet, many, many years ago, this is exactly where out sages advised us to begin our children’s learning:
“The sacrifices are pure, and the little ones are pure. Let the pure one deal with the pure things” (Psikta D’rav Kahana, 6). A puzzle, to say the least. What did they mean?
In a way, each book of the Torah offers us a new beginning spiraling and building on the previous one: Exodus expands on what Genesis began, taking the story of a few individuals to that of nationhood.
The Book of Leviticus begins with sacrifices: what to bring when, how and mostly why. How can that possibly be an expansion on previous texts?
After calling Moses, G-d instructs him: אדם כי יקריב מכם קרבן לה …
“If a person among you would bring near an offering to G-d… shall you bring near your offering” (Leviticus 1:2).
The translation is from the Hirsch Chumash and is critical. It avoids using the simple “sacrifice”, and instead, stays close to the Hebrew, “yakriv” – what would normally be “he will sacrifice”, here is “bring near”. That is because the Hebrew for sacrifice comes from the word to draw near, to be karov.
It also uses the word Adam, a person, a human being, which should immediately take us back to the Garden of Eden. Already there, the midrash tells us something strange: that before the world was even created, tshuva – “repentance” or better – a way to come back – was created. This idea is carried through here, through the word adam. “Adam ki yakriv” – if a person can come near, that means that s/he can also become far. From the beginning the Torah recognizes that pull within us. There are always two voices within us, as if one observing us from within; two “inclinations” – good and bad.
Interestingly, on the day the human is created, the day is sealed with “very good”, not only “good” like every other day. That “very good”, our sages say, is the yetzer hara, the evil inclination. How come “very good” is also bad??
We find elsewhere:
שאילו לא היה יצר הרע לא בנה אדם בית ולא נשא אשה ולא הוליד בנים,
Without the yetzer hara, one would not build a home, nor marry a woman nor beget children” (midrash raba on Kohelet). Wait… so is the “evil inclination” good or bad??
Because sometimes the same thing can used for good or bad, and both are within us. When we wish to draw near to G-d, we can’t leave half of us behind; we need both parts. Just like the first human, we can’t hide among the trees. We have to come wholeheartedly.
There is another strange thing about the word Adam. Unlike other words for “man”, “woman”, “dude”, “lady”… Adam has no plural. There is only one; that one is each one of us, each unique, each a whole world. The book that will teach us “love your neighbor as yourself” (19:19) starts with a reminder: Our task is to collect our whole self, all the pieces, and with that whole world, come near G-d.