With Parashat Vayikra we not only begin a new weekly Torah portion, but also a new book of the Torah. And beginning a new book of the Torah hints to new beginnings in all aspects of our spiritual and physical lives. If we only could understand how new strengths are being infused into us from on-high… What is required of us, however, is to be flexible enough to experience and utilize them.

The end of last week's Torah reading spoke about the cloud that hid the Sanctuary, while this week, Vayikra, begins with the words "And G‑d called to Moses". The Lubavitcher Rebbe writes that this embodies one of life's formulas: the constant movement from concealment to revelation. Rashi explains that the heavenly voice would reach only Moses, whereas the rest of the Jewish people could not hear the voice.

The Degel Machaneh Ephraim, one of the earliest books that disseminated the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov, connects this to the second Mishna in the 6th chapter of Tractate Avot: "Each and every day, a divine voice calls out from Mt. Moriah saying, 'Woe to the people because their actions are an affront to the Torah!'" This divine voice is our thoughts of teshuva, a return to spiritual sensibility that sparks the heart of each of us every day. Whoever is sensitive enough to hear it, to understand and respond appropriately, is on the level of Moses, to whom "the voice would reach out only to him". Whoever ignores the small subtle voice that tries to sprout in his heart every day, does not only not change for the better, it is as though the voice did not touch him at all.

The whole purpose of the offerings…is to offer ourselves to G‑d….

The second verse says, "When a person brings an offering from his own [in Hebrew, 'mikem']. "mikem" can also be translated "from himself". The whole purpose of the offerings, both when the Sanctuary stood, and even more so now when each person is like a sanctuary, is to offer ourselves to G‑d. We must sacrifice the animal part of ourselves - our evil inclination, which is nicknamed our "animal soul" - as an offering on the altar. (Likutei Torah)

The third verse says that when a person brings an offering to the Sanctuary, it should be "willingly [in Hebrew, 'l'riztono'] before G‑d". The Maggid of Mezritch explains that a person should bring an offering of "l'ritzono", which can mean "his own will". When a person wishes to elevate himself to the highest levels of holiness that he can potentially reach, when he himself is in a sense the offering to G‑d, what is the most valuable part of himself that he can offer? His own will. This is also explained by the Sages: "Fulfill His will as you would your own will, so that He may fulfill your will as though it were His will. Set aside your will because of His will, so that He may set aside the will of others before your will." (Avot 2:4)

The Maggid illustrated this with a story: Once in mid winter, Napoleon slept in a tent on the front. He had a few blankets to keep him warm. Suddenly, he woke with a terrific thirst but did not want to go out into the cold. He said to himself, "If I, Napoleon, am so lazy, what is the difference between me and everyone else?" So he jumped out of bed and walked across the camp for a drink. When he reached the water barrels, he changed his mind. He said, "For a little thirst I got out of bed and walked all this distance?! Can I not even control a little thirst? What is between me and everyone else?" He did not drink and returned to his tent. "This," said the Maggid, "is what we call breaking one's will!"

Two students of the Maggid once met. One said, "What is going to be the end of it all? All of our bad deeds, where will they lead us?" His friend answered, "About our sins I am not so worried - this is why G‑d gave us the concept of repentance. What really worries me are our good deeds; when the time comes, how will we dare to raise our heads with such (poor quality of) good deeds...?

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

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