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Welcome to Our Shabbos Table

Click here for last year's divrei torah on parshas Vayikra
Click here for last year's divrei torah on parshas Vayikra

Welcome to our Shabbos Table!
We hope you enjoy this selection of short divrei Torah, presented to family and guests at our Shabbos table as a springboard for discussion. Each one is followed by a question. The responses shared at our table are enlightening, entertaining, and always thought-provoking.
Please share them at your own Shabbos table, and send us your most interesting responses. A selection of the best will be posted on the website, and eventually, included in a book. To respond, email us at responses@ourtable.org.

Parshas Vayikra/ Self- Sacrifice

“Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: When a man (adam) among you offers a sacrifice to Hashem; from animals … you shall offer your sacrifice” (Vayikra 1:2).

Vayikra, the third of the Five Books of Moses, begins by enumerating which animals constitute acceptable korbanos (sacrifices) to Hashem and how to offer each one in the Mishkan. Precise instructions are given to the Kohanim, who were to carry out the actual sacrifices.

Our pasuk, says the Kli Yakar, actually harks all the way back to Kayin and Hevel, warning us to avoid the mistakes they made in offering their korbanos.

Giving Your All

Whereas Hevel sacrificed his firstborn sheep, Kayin offered mere flax seeds. Ideally, to atone for our sins, we should sacrifice our own souls, but Hashem generously accepts the soul of an animal instead. (Only those who can’t afford an animal sacrifice are permitted to bring a meal offering, as detailed later in this parshah.) Since Kayin failed to offer an animal, he missed out on the powerful catharsis of virtually sacrificing oneself.

Therefore, our pasuk stresses the importance of sacrificing “from animals.” And it concludes, “offer your sacrifice,” alluding to the finest part of the animal, the part you yourself would choose to eat. Bringing Hashem the best ensures that we not follow in Kayin’s footsteps, offering that which wasn’t ideal.

Korban Copy

Hevel offered a sacrifice only because he was jealous of Kayin’s. Only after Kayin brought his offering, Hevel “also brought” (Bereishis 4:4).

Therefore our pasuk states, “When a man (adam in Hebrew) among you offers a sacrifice.” The owner of the sacrifice should emulate Adam, who also sacrificed to Hashem (Shabbos 28b) but not just to copy anyone else, because there was no one else! Similarly, the Hebrew phrase translated above as “among you” literally means “from you,” because the inspiration for a sacrifice should come from the person himself. Only then is it “a sacrifice to Hashem,” brought solely for Hashem’s sake, not just out of peer pressure.

The Mishkan itself was built on this principle of sincerity. Regarding its construction materials, Hashem instructs Moshe, “Tell the children of Israel to take for Me an offering; from every person whose heart inspires him…” (Shemos 25:2).

Our Sacrifices

The Mishkan is long gone, of course, and unfortunately so is the Beis HaMikdash. But we can still sacrifice to Hashem.

Around Minchah time, “Yosef” popped into Netzach Yisrael, the shul down the block from his recently purchased property in Jerusalem’s Rechaviah district. New to the neighborhood, he didn’t know much about the shul, other than that it was really in bad shape. Yet the beis midrash had once housed the yeshivah of the great Rabbi Yisrael Gustman, who had passed away a few years earlier.

Yosef overheard a conversation between Avraham, the gabbai of the shul, and a donor interested in buying new tables for the place, since someone had leaned on a decrepit one that morning, and it had collapsed!

“What about chairs?” Yosef piped up. “I’m happy to donate that.”

Later that day, after giving the matter some thought, Yosef told Avraham he wanted the shul to have the finest furnishings, and if that required more money than the first donor was willing to give, he himself would make up the difference.

The gabbai did some research and found out that Kibbutz Lavi was an excellent manufacturer of shul furniture. But when a kibbutz worker came to measure and give an estimate, the condition of the shul concerned him. The floor was so crooked and broken, he said, that even new benches wouldn’t sit properly.

The shul desperately needed new furniture and didn’t want to lose this donation opportunity. So Avraham gathered a few friends from the Mir Yeshivah to replace the floor. Armed only with the shul’s meager toolbox, the yeshivah boys began banging away. The plan was to retile as inexpensively as possible, since the shul had no budget for anything more.

Yosef heard the banging emanating from the shul that night. When he went to investigate, he discovered the yeshivah students clumsily attempting to fix the floor. Realizing how much of an overhaul the shul needed, Yosef promptly brought in his own architect and contractor to redo the entire place – at his own expense. Though he had no connection to Netzach Yisrael, and though this project delayed the renovation of his own residence, Yosef gladly sacrificed his time and money. This was his korban to Hashem, which quickly led to a resurgence of Netzach Yisrael under its rosh yeshivah, Rabbi Michoel Berniker, son-in-law of Rabbi Gustman.

May we never skimp on mitzvos, and may we do them purely to serve Hashem.

Question for Discussion:

Doing mitzvos out of peer pressure is better than not doing them at all, but it’s certainly not ideal. When have you done a mitzvah out of genuine conviction rather than ulterior motives?