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Vayikra 5783 - The Sweet Smell...of Every Jew

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There is often a certain disconnect that exists when we arrive at Sefer Vayikra. We spent the past many weeks reading about and discussing the descriptions of just how beautiful the mishkan and later the Beis HaMikdash was.  Integral to the entire Pesach experience is the desire for a time when we will be able to bring the Korban Pesach once again at the Har HaBayis.


Yet, if you’ve ever been to a slaughterhouse, or even thought about going to one, the sites and smells of that place do not exactly exude grandeur and beauty.


And so, it creates this dissonance for us.  How are supposed to understand the Beis HaMikdash as this beautiful, grand representation of our Avodas Hashem, alongside these unseemly and not-so-grand aspects of the service done in that very place?


And sometimes it’s nice to see that the Torah and Chazal seem to address exactly the challenge that we, ourselves, are bothered by.


In the very first Aliyah of this week’s parsha, the Torah discusses the process of offering a bird.  And it offers some very specific details:


ויקרא פרשת ויקרא פרק א

(יז) וְשִׁסַּע אֹתוֹ בִכְנָפָיו לֹא יַבְדִּיל וְהִקְטִיר אֹתוֹ הַכֹּהֵן הַמִּזְבֵּחָה עַל הָעֵצִים אֲשֶׁר עַל הָאֵשׁ עֹלָה הוּא אִשֵּׁה רֵיחַ נִיחֹחַ לַיקֹוָק: ס


He, the Kohein, should tear it apart with its feathers still on, he need not divide it, and the Kohein should offer it on the Mizbeach (Altar), on top of the wood which is on the fire.   It is an Ola offering, a fire-offering, a pleasing fragrance to Hashem.


And Rashi, quoting the medrash rabba, is bothered.  And he writes as follows:


בכנפיו - נוצה ממש. והלא אין לך הדיוט שמריח ריח רע של כנפים נשרפים ואין נפשו קצה עליו, ולמה אמר הכתוב והקטיר?!

With its wings means that you leave the feathers on the bird when you offer it.  And he asks, there is no person who would smell the smell of burning wings and not become totally nauseous and disgusted!?


1)   How can this be something Hashem asks us to do?

2)   How can it possibly be referred to as “Reiach Nichoach LaHahem?!


And answers the medrash:

כדי שיהא המזבח שבע ומהודר בקרבנו של עני:

Because Hashem wants to the mizbeaich, the altar, to be satiated and BEAUTIFIED by the offering of the poor.


Birds are much less expensive than larger animals like sheep and cows. So, many members of Klal Yisrael would never be able to offer one of those larger, more expensive animals, and their offering would always be a bird.  And, if we would LIMIT the offerings on the mizbeach to be only from animals that smelled nice, we would be limiting the types of Jews who could offer a korban.


But it goes further than that.  Because the language of the medrash is that Hashem wants the mizbeaich to be SAVEIA and MEHUDAR with the korban of the ani.  Hashem is not simply willing to TOLERATE the korban of the Ani.  Rather, it is the Korban of the poor person that ELEVATES and BEAUTIFIES the mizbeach.  And while, yes, it may not smell so great, the not-so-wonderful smell of the bird-offering, is just as sweet, a REIACH NICHOACH, to Hashem.


Rav Yeruchem Levovitz, in his sefer Daas Torah, elaborates on this Rashi with the following mashal:


If you had to choose a place to spend your time.  And you could spend it amongst people who dress nicely, who have excellent hygiene, maybe they even wear nice cologne or perfume.  Or, you could spend with a chevra that doesn’t have it together in the same way.  People who have less.  Individuals whose clothes are worn out, maybe they haven’t showered in a little while and they smell.


Where would we choose to spend our time?


There’s no question, we would prefer to spend our time with the well-groomed, nice smelling group.  It would be difficult for us to even spend more than a few moments with the individual who is unkempt and who smells. We might feel embarrassed to be associated with such a person. We wouldn’t be able to handle it.


Says Rav Yeruchem, comes our pasuk to teach us something amazing: HKBH is challenging us to go against that natural tendency.  Not only should we not distance ourselves from such people.  These are the individuals we should be coming close to. 


And why?  Says, Rav Yeruchem, because these are the individuals to whom HKBH is the closest.  As the pasuk in Yeshayahu tells us:


ישעיהו פרק נז

 (טו) ]כִּי כֹה אָמַר רָם וְנִשָּׂא שֹׁכֵן עַד וְקָדוֹשׁ שְׁמוֹ מָרוֹם וְקָדוֹשׁ אֶשְׁכּוֹן[ וְאֶת דַּכָּא וּשְׁפַל רוּחַ לְהַחֲיוֹת רוּחַ שְׁפָלִים וּלְהַחֲיוֹת לֵב נִדְכָּאִים:

“I am with the despondent and the lowly of spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and revive the spirit of the despondent.”


And, therefore, when we come close to these individuals and treat them with respect, we are showing Kavod to HKBH Himself, and emulating His ways.


And when I saw this idea from Rav Yeruchem, it reminded me of another idea I recently heard from Rav Mordechai Machlis.  Rav Machlis, is famous in Yerushalayim for having 200 guests every Friday night in Yerushalayim.  A place where literally every kind of Jew can be found and is accepted.


And it is no surprise that he said the following beautiful idea:


When Hashem is describing what will transpire on the very first Pesach, He tells Bnei Yisrael to place blood on their doorposts while they eat the Korban Pesach inside their homes. 

And says the Torah:


(י"ב:י"ג) [וְהָיָה הַדָּם לָכֶם לְאֹת עַל הַבָּתִּים אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם שָׁם] וְרָאִיתִי אֶת הַדָּם וּפָסַחְתִּי עֲלֵכֶם [וְלֹא יִהְיֶה בָכֶם נֶגֶף לְמַשְׁחִית בְּהַכֹּתִי בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם:]

And I will see the blood, and I will passover you.


And Rashi on that pasuk on the word “U’PASACHTI” writes:


I will have COMPASSION for you.


And asked Rav Machlis, I understand that the passing over the homes of the Jews was an act of kindness. But it is also what Hashem had to do if He wanted to take us out of Egypt!  If He wouldn’t have passed over our homes, there would be no Am Yisrael remaining!?


And he explained that the act of PESACH, of physically PASSING OVER the homes of Am Yisrael, was really symbolic of how Hashem was relating to us then, and how He relates to us to this very day.


If we look at another person, and we pay attention to every single detail of their personality. Every decision they make, everything they say, we will UNDOUBTEDLY find flaws, mistakes, things we don’t like so much about that person.  With some people, it doesn’t take all that much attention and we feel that way.


What, then, is the key to continuing to foster Ahavas Yisrael, a love of EVERY JEW?  U’PASACHTI ALEIHEM – Learning to Passover, to OVERLOOK those flaws, the Passover those things about others that make us crazy.


So, says Rashi, UPASACHTI, CHAMALTI.  There were plenty of flaws in Am Yisrael the night of the seder, but Hashem decided to PASSOVER, to overlook the flaws and see our potential.  And so, Rashi challenges us to be those who passover the unsavory aspects of other people, to be a person of true CHEMLA, true COMPASSION.


The world is full of people that aren’t exactly our style.  People with different views, different attitudes.  People who bother us only a little and people whose smell is so difficult for us to take that we can’t even look their way.


And all we have to do is see what’s happening in Eretz Yisrael right now, and really across the world, to see what happens when we step so far away from those who we feel are just TOO DIFFERENT FROM US that we can’t even have a civilized conversation.


In a couple of weeks, it will be Pesach.  Many of us will be spending time with extended family and friends.  And I can’t think of a better time to energize ourselves in the mida of “U’PASACHTI ALEICHEM”, a time to allow ourselves to Passover the frustrations we may have with members of our family.  To recognize that while those frustrations exist and will likely continue to exist, we will have richer, more fulfilling relationships when we learn to be POSEIACH.


And as we do so, letting go of our frustrations for the benefit of shalom in our homes and our community, we can be sure that our Pesach will surely be a REIACH NICHOACH LAHASHEM.     

*Image by pvproductions on freepik


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