Parshas Vayikra # 1
“Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: if a person from among you brings a sacrifice to Hashem from an animal, from cattle or from sheep you will bring your sacrifice” (Vayikra 1:2).
Now that the Mishkan was in place, Hashem summoned Moshe and instructed him to teach the Jewish people the laws of the different types of korbanos (sacrifices) that would be offered there: “If a person (adam) from among you (mikem) brings a sacrifice to Hashem.”
The wording of this passuk is unusual. It uses the term adam (“person” or “man”) rather than ish, the word more commonly used. In addition, after the singular term adam, the passuk switches to the plural, with the word mikem (“from among you”).
Chazal explain the significance of the word adam: “You [the Jewish people] are called ‘adam,’ and non-Jews are not called ‘adam’” (Yevamos 61a).
Taken at face value, this is clearly a controversial statement. However, understanding the meaning of the word adam, as opposed to other Hebrew terms for “man” or “human being,” sheds an entirely different light on this Gemara, and teaches us an important lesson about our responsibility to our fellow Jews.
Rav Hershel Schachter relates that Rav Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor of Kovno, the world renowned posek, once explained to a Catholic bishop that this teaching of Chazal is neither discriminatory nor intended as an offense to non-Jews. It highlights an important aspect of the unique nature of the Jewish people, and should not be a cause for anti-Semitism.
Of the four Hebrew terms for man (ish, enosh, gever, and adam), adam is the only one that does not have a plural form. This, he said, is why Jews alone are called “adam” – in essence, they are a single unit. If one Jew does something wrong, he represents Jews everywhere. As Rav Schachter points out, “When an individual Jew acts improperly, he disgraces the entire Jewish people, as well as the Jewish religion” (Rabbi Hershel Schachter, “Chillul Hashem”).
In a sense, all Jews are one Jew; we as a people are one adam. This explains the transition from singular to plural within the same passuk: the word adam, although used as a singular noun, implies the plural as well. The message is clear: what one Jew does, reflects on all Jews as a whole.
Fortunately, this is true in a positive sense as well. A single Jew’s act of kiddush Hashem, even in a private setting, can matter in ways he will never know, for Jews he will never meet.
Long-term Kiddush Hashem
Rabbi Berel Wein related a story which shows how very far one Jew’s kiddush Hashem can go, in time and in scope. The editor of the Detroit Free Press, Detroit’s largest daily paper, told Rabbi Wein that his mother Mary, a teenager newly arrived from Ireland, was employed as a maid by the family of the president of an Orthodox synagogue. This was her first encounter with Jews and religious Jewish life. When the family went on vacation in December, Mary stayed in their empty house. She suddenly realized that the family would be returning home on December twenty-fourth, just in time for the Christian holidays, and they didn’t have a tree! She decided to surprise them: she took the money they had left her and bought not only a nice tree for inside the house, but an assortment of holiday decorations, which she hung out in front. The family returned the night of the twenty-fourth. When they saw the decorated house, they could only assume that they were in the wrong driveway. They drove around the block, but quickly had to face the fact that this was indeed their house, decorated for the Christian holidays – in full view of all the members of the shul, who had passed it on their way to davening!
Mary was sincerely excited about her surprise, and couldn’t wait to see the family’s reaction. Her employer asked to speak to her in his study. He told her, “In my whole life no one has ever done such a beautiful thing for me as you did.” To show his appreciation for her thoughtfulness, he gave her a gift of one hundred dollars, a very large sum of money in those years. Once he was sure she understood that they valued the gesture, he gently explained that Jews do not have holiday trees.
Decades later, Mary’s son, by then the editor of a prominent newspaper, told Rabbi Wein, “And that is why there has never been an editorial critical of Israel in the Detroit Free Press since I became editor, and there never will be as long as I am the editor.”
This shul president could not possibly have anticipated that Mary would one day have a son in an influential position, and the State of Israel was then still in the future. Unknown to him, his kiddush Hashem extended beyond his immediate circle and to the next generation (“The X-mas Tree,” Jonathan Rosenblum, aish.com).
Question for Discussion:
When did you, or someone you know, do something which reflected positively on Jews as a whole?Click Here To Respond