Parshah

Pesach: Me, Myself, and B’nei Yisrael

It’s a first-hand account of the Exodus – thousands of years later. The Torah instructs each of us...

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Some things really hit  close to home.

As we begin the chumash [VaYikra] largely about korbanos, it is surprising that none of our typical translations for that word do it justice. “Sacrifice” implies that we are giving away something which rightfully belongs to us; this is an inappropriate description of giving something to the Creator and Owner of everything. “Offering” and “present” are similarly problematic, as they imply that we are giving something to Hashem that He does not already have. So then what does “korban” mean?

There was a peasant farmer in old Russia standing at the side of the road, weeping profusely. As he stood there, the Czar happened to pass by in his royal coach. The Czar saw the peasant, and when he noticed him weeping, he stopped his chariot to inquire what was wrong. The man tearfully explained that he had no land to farm, and he and his family were starving. The Czar, touched by this man’s misfortune, pulled out a stake from his chariot and drove it into the ground. He then gave the peasant three more stakes and instructed him: “Walk as far as you wish and then drive this stake into the ground. Turn, walk again as far as you wish, and then place the next stake in the ground. Finally, turn again and walk as far as you’d like before placing the last stake in the ground. The land between the four stakes will be yours as a gift from me, the Czar.”

Imagine you are on a train, traveling towards your destination. You look to your right and see a fellow passenger. Attempting to be friendly, you ask him where he’s heading. He shrugs his shoulders and says, “I don’t know.” Confused, you ask again. He repeats, “I’m just riding the train. I don’t know where I’m going.” At this point, you begin to wonder if this guy is out of his mind. Who goes on a train without a destination in mind?

Isn’t it a little late for that?!

After spending 40 days together atop Har Sinai, Hashem hands Moshe Rabbeinu the Luchos, which are simply described as “written by G-d” (Sh’mos 31:18). Just as Moshe finishes packing up and begins to head down, Hashem breaks the terrible news to him: Your people have committed the ultimate betrayal by creating a golden calf! Faithful Moshe stays and davens persistently on behalf of the nation until Hashem finally relents and agrees to not destroy B’nei Yisrael. Moshe then picks up the Luchos and comes “down to Earth,” where he proceeds to smash them in plain view of the people.

It’s time for a hot take

While angry fighting is discouraged all week long, it is especially important for families to avoid machlokes on Shabbos (Mishnah B’rurah 262:9). This idea has been connected to the beginning of Parshas VaYakhel: “You shall not kindle a fire in any of your dwelling places on the day of Sabbath” (Sh’mos 35:3). The simple and literal understanding of this pasuk is that one may not strike a match on Shabbos. However, the Zohar extracts a deeper message, as well: You shall not ignite a “fiery” temper in your house on Shabbos (Tikunei HaZohar 48).

He had been controlling himself for so long, had come so far, but he just couldn’t hold himself back anymore. Everyone else was asleep, so no one else would even have to know. Internally, he was struggling, pulled in every direction, unable to make a decision. On the one hand, there was a convincing and confident voice persuading him to do it, to give in to the urge. “If you eat it, it will feel so good”! On the other hand, there was a quieter, more subtle voice attempting to use reason and judgment. “But this is ridiculous. It’s wrong, destructive, childish, and just foolish. You’ve done this before, and hated yourself afterwards; you felt disgusted, ashamed. You know that you’ll feel the very same way in about five minutes if you do it again. This has never ended well for you.” As a bead of sweat drips down the side of his cheek and he stares at the chocolate cake, he tries to weigh his options.