Friday, March 23, 2012

VAYIKRa: the secret of the small aleph

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman



What are the real measures of greatness? How is true character understood? Is leadership defined solely by power, or more importantly, by moral example? The word for general or chieftan in Hebrew is aluf. The elephant is so called on account that he is the aluf (ELEPHant) of the jungle.

While the lion may in fact be the king of the jungle, the elephant, by dint of his huge size, is indisputably the chief. And more than his size accounts for his greatness. His capacity for kindness and concern for the members of his extended family are the real measures of his greatness. If one stumbles or falls, the herd rallies around the wounded comrade and nurses him to health. No one is left behind. Rare is the elephant who is abandoned to fate.

Ironically, goats, sheep, deer, cattle- in short all the kosher animals(!),embody the opposite behavior, fleeing en masse at the first sign of danger. Probably the elephant's massive size allows him the luxury of such overt and conscious compassion. We are what we eat. Perhaps this is why we run from the first sign of danger! But know that this is the galut mentality, the ethos of the exile consciousness. Within the Land of Zion there is a massive shift in consciousness. A new Jewish paradigm.

This is also perhaps a hint for embracing vegetarianism as a goal. Rav Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of Israel, was a vegetarian and saw it as an ideal diet for developing moral sensitivity. Do we wish to flee or stand our ground? The fact that all these kosher animals were slaughtered in the Temple is irrelevant. We were even required to light fires even on Shabbat in the Temple precincts - for lighting the menorah each day, and for the daily korban offering as well as the extra (musaf) offering on the Sabbath. But there is one reality and consciousness and holy law for the Holy Temple and for the Kohanim who administer it, and a separate law for all of Israel in the places of their habitation.

In our parsha this week, Vayikra, we are struck by the small letter alef in the opening word of the parsha- VAYIKRa. The parsha so overtly consumed with the details of sacrificial offerings, it is subtly telling us in code that if we are looking to the animal kingdom to search for conduits to connect with divinity, we should really look no further than the beginning, to the letter alef.

Adam, who named all the animals, deeply saw their essential natures when giving them their names. Puk Chazi! Go and see! See how the animals live. While the herd animals are fearful and frightened, the elephant can strongly stand his ground and yet be gentle and caring.

There is a Talmudic concept called sagi nahor by which a thing is suggested by referring to its opposite. Sagi Nahor means "abundant light," a delicate reference to one who is blind. Similarly, the repugnant notion of cursing G*d, CV"S, is only referred to by its opposite. Therefore, in Talmudic literature, cursing G*d is usually referred to as "blessing" Him! So perhaps then, the parsha which is teaching us to reach G*d via affinity with animals is referring to the largest of animals all the while using the small form of the alef to suggest its opposite!

So let us learn from the elephant that true nobility is exemplified in acts of caring, compassion and concern.This is the overarching message of the Prophets of Israel. It is said that the small alef alludes to the necessary quality of humility in leadership. Arrogance only invites repugnance, and is the least admirable quality in a leader.

But the small aleph in the parsha about offerings also hints to the truth that the existence of the Jewish People and the battle for Israel's survival unfortunately entails the loss of our greatest love - our precious, innocent children. Sadly, it is the blood our children's sacrifices spilled by our enemies which water our determination to hold fast to our precious legacy and heritage.

Our enemies, by contrast, use their children as human shields next to rocket launchers to purposely gain the world's sympathy when Israel eventually retaliates. It is this contrast which Heaven sees and of which it takes note. On the Day of Judgment all will make an accounting before the Heavenly Throne. To use children as shields is incomprehensible to the Jewish mind, and yet our enemies see it as a worthy sacrifice to put forward their stated aims of destroying Israel and murdering Jews the world over.

More than G*d seeks sacrifices, He seeks that we follow His Torah and teachings regarding real concern for the children and for the welfare of the poor and the disenfranchised. The haftarah reminds us how G*d actually despises meticulous rituals and sacrifices when they are accompanied by a disregard for His teachings.

Elephants don't travel in flocks. They travel in distinct family units within larger clans. This is the way of Israel, emphasizing the core centrality of the loving family unit within the idea of loyalty to the larger tribe (or people).Just as the elephant radiates love from the inside to the outside, from the family to the clan to the herd, so too may we come to radiate our love for G*d and His Creatures from the inside to the outside.

May we first love and heal ourselves and our families. Only then can we love and heal the whole world.As the great sage Hillel taught,"im eyn ani li mi li, uk'she'ani l'atzmi mah ani, ve'im eyn achshav eymatai?""If I am not for myself, then who will be for me. But if I am only for myself, then what (kind of person) am I? And if not now, then when?"

In other words, perhaps the greatest strength is kindness.
Shabbat Shalom!


© 2000-2012 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua HaKohen Melman

These words of Torah are written in the merit of my beloved father, Israel J. Melman, obm, Yisrael Yehoshua ben Harav Ya'aqov Hakohen Melman, z"l and in memory of my beloved mother, Esther Melman, obm, Esther bat Baruch z"l.

1 comment:

Leeba said...

Beautiful! Thank you, once again.

Sometimes, kindness (like the small aleph, is not easily detected or seen. Quite so, often it is the little gestures - a smile, a nod, looking someone in the eye while they are speaking so they know they are being heard - that make huge differences. Kindness may often seem small or simple, but when coupled with empathy, the results may even be life-changing.

May we all spread kindness, seasoned with humility, in this often difficult world.

Shabbat Shalom,

Leeba

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About Me

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I played violin with Reb Shlomo and studied under him for over nine years at hundreds of concerts and learnings. Shlomo wanted to give me smicha before he passed. Deepest influences: My father,obm, who was a great scientist and human being, and my grandfather, obm, who was a great Torah scholar who was a musmach of the Mir Yeshiva and taught in Slobodka in Russia before WW1, and was also personal friends with the Chafetz Chaim and came to America in 1914. He knew the Talmud by heart! You could stick a pin in a word and he could tell you what word was on the other side! And my mother, Esther bat Baruch, z"l, who was a scholar of classical Hebrew and Tanach and who gave me a love for the language. And her mother, Anna (Sucher) Deutsch, who was born in Horodenka, spoke six languages, and shared her aged wisdom and eternal sweetness with me. I studied at Brandeis, Hebrew College, Pardes as well as seven years at The Metivta/ITJ earning my Advanced Semicha (yoreh yoreh)under Rav Halivni. What's truly amazing is that Shlomo and Rav Halivni each received semicha from Rav Hutner! But my deepest influences of them all are my sweetest sweetest girls who have taught me the most!