VAYIKRA (Leviticus, 1:1-5:26) — “Keeping Score”

I try to write a new Torah Talk message every week.  Sometimes my schedule forces me to send a “retread” from the Archives.  With Passover (and tax!) preparation upon us, it would be easy to understand why I’m going to the Archives.  In reality, however, I was planning to write a new message this week.  As you will soon see, I have good reason to send this message, from three years ago, once again. 

Last Shabbos, my family enjoyed the pleasure of hosting a couple whom we have known for many years.  Members of a former congregation of mine, their family has become very observant over the years.  As we sat at the table Friday night, I told them a story about a former student of mine.  I didn’t recall at the time that I had written up the story in Torah Talk, and I certainly didn’t realize that it was written in reference to this week’s Torah Portion. But I was totally unprepared for what met me on Sunday morning. 

Read on:

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 “Keeping Score” 

The Book of Leviticus deals primarily with offerings that were brought in the Temple.  One of those offerings is brought to atone for inadvertently sinning: 

If a person will sin … and bears his sin… (Leviticus. 5:17) What does it mean, “to bear one’s sin? 

One does not live in a vacuum.  When we perform an action, any action, it affects us, sometimes positively, and sometimes negatively. 

The Talmud (Pesachim, 54b) says that one of the things that man does not comprehend is “Omek HaDin — the depth of Judgment.”  We are not capable of comprehending the connection between our sins and the consequences of those sins.  Rabbi Eliezer Shach, of Blessed Memory, explained that the problem is that most people don’t appreciate the gravity of whatever they did wrong.  (Another text, perhaps, to study in the analysis of why bad things happen to good people.) 

Rabbi Yose, quoted in the Toras Kohanim and Rashi’s commentary, points to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  They were given one simple Mitzvah, not to eat from the tree.  They violated that Mitzvah.  What were the results of this sin?  Man was originally supposed to live forever.  By eating from the forbidden tree, Adam and Eve introduced death to the world.  Their sin caused a catastrophic upheaval of the entire future of the world. 

Our Sages tell us that whatever concept applies to the negative, applies all the more so to the positive.  Therefore, explains Rabbi Yose, if one sin can result in generations of bad, a single Mitzvah will certainly lead to an exponential amount of good. 

Apparently, a sin is a sin, regardless of whether it is a “major” sin or a “minor” one.  Let us look, for example, at the two sins mentioned in the first Torah Portion.  Adam and Eve ate a fruit that they were told not to eat.  Cain killed Abel.  Cain’s sin seems far worse than Adam’s.  Yet, Adam’s snack brought death to the world, while Cain’s act of homicide led “only” to banishment.  Rabbi Shach explained that EVERY sin represents a rejection of G-d’s will; every infraction, even a “little white” one, is an act of rebellion.  If we understood this, says Rabbi Shach, it would be unthinkable for us to violate even the smallest commandment.

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My first job was as a teacher in a Hebrew day school in Tucson, Arizona.  The school was made up of children from diverse backgrounds.  I taught there for four years, and then moved back to the New York area.  About seven years after I left Tucson, I found a message on my answering machine in Kingston, New York.  A former student had opened a phone book in Brooklyn, found a Seplowitz listing, and asked if they knew Rabbi Seplowitz from Tucson.  My brother gave him my phone number in Kingston. 

Mark and I met for lunch in a Kosher restaurant in Manhattan. This young man, whom I had taught in fifth grade in Tucson, was now a longhaired, earringed student at Columbia University.  He had many questions and challenges to the Jewish faith, and wanted to know more.  I suggested that he look into classes at Lincoln Square Synagogue, not far from Columbia.

We spoke on the phone occasionally, but I haven’t seen him in the ten or so years since that afternoon in the restaurant.  I eventually lost contact with him.  I knew that he had established a connection with another rabbi, but that was all I knew. A few years ago, I met up with another former student from Tucson.  I asked her if she knew anything about the whereabouts of Mark L______.  “Oh, he’s married, and studying in the Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem!” 

I was shocked.  Here was a young man who came from a totally secular home in Arizona, studying full-time in a Yeshiva!  He had traded in his earring and long hair for a black hat and beard (my guess!) and exchanged the intellectual pursuits of Columbia for the spiritual delights of Torah. Amazing! 

But it doesn’t stop here.  A few months ago, I had a guest who used to live in Tucson.  She asked me if I knew the L_____ family.  I proceeded to tell her the story that I just told you.  “Let me tell you the rest of the story,” she said.  Mark’s father and mother, both highly accomplished professionals, as well as his brother and sister, are now totally observant.  They saw the beauty of Mark’s Torah lifestyle, and decided to emulate it. 

Unbelievable!  All because a former fifth grader from Tucson, Arizona decided to ask a few questions.

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I wish I could pat myself on the back for a job well done.  I would love to use this story to illustrate how my professional expertise as a teacher of Torah stimulated the avalanche of learning that eventually changed a family.  But I can’t.  To tell you the truth, this story frightens me. 

That afternoon in the restaurant, I asked Mark why he had called me, of all people.  He told me about a comment I had made back in Tucson that impressed him.  Some off-the cuff statement that I don’t remember had struck a chord and remained with him for several years.  When he needed to speak to a rabbi, he thought of me. 

You know why this story scares me?  I don’t remember what I said!  Some unthinking, unplanned words that escaped my lips made a positive impact that lasted for years!  I wonder, how many unthinking comments that I may have made have done just the opposite?  Could there be a former fifth-grader out there who has a NEGATIVE view of Torah because of a flippant comment from his teacher???

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If we had any idea of the power of our words, we would weigh them as a jeweler weighs precious stones and metals.  If we could begin to comprehend the spiritual ramifications of our actions, we would dedicate ourselves to uncompromising Torah observance. 

The problem, as we see from the Talmud, quoted above, is that we do not appreciate “the depth of Judgment.” We don’t make the connection between our deeds and their results. 

We are given a specific number of years to sojourn this planet.  Opportunities abound for acts of charity and kindness.  There is a vast amount of knowledge that we can glean during our years on earth.  There are Mitzvahs available for us to do.  G-d gave us a “credit card” with which we can amass credit or debit. 

We must be sure to shop wisely.  (END OF MESSAGE WRITTEN IN 2003)

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FAST FORWARD TO 2006: 

I spend a lot of time in the car.  In order to utilize my time wisely, I seek out recordings on Torah topics to listen to while I drive.  (After all, how many times do you need to listen to “Traffic and Weather Together”?!)  I recently purchased mp3 files of short daily classes on the Laws of Passover. 

Last Sunday morning, I downloaded the files onto my Palm.  I noticed that there were different rabbis teaching different classes.  One of the rabbis was, to my amazement, a gentleman by the name of Rabbi Yaakov L______. 

Yaakov L____!!  Could it be?  Could it possibly be my former student Mark?!  I listened to the recording.  A mature young man teaching Torah.  I hadn’t heard Mark’s voice in years; I just wasn’t sure.  I tried to remember – what was Mark’s Hebrew name?  And L____ (kept anonymous to respect his privacy) is not a common name. 

After a few “Googles” I managed to track down Rabbi Mark/Yaakov L_____, a young Talmudic scholar living with his wife and five children in Jerusalem.  We spoke for about 45 minutes.  What a fine, beautiful young man. 

My student has become my teacher! 

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

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 FROM THE ARCHIVES

 “Where’s The Beef?” (2010)

 …Leviticus is a vegetarian’s nightmare.  …  Do we, the civilized Jews of the 21st century really expect to return to the antiquated cult of animal sacrifice?! Can you see it… Jackie Mason… slaughtering bulls on the Temple Mount? Meanwhile, Paul McCartney and the animal rights crowd will be protesting outside!  🙂 And should we really be burning all that meat?  Is G-d THAT hungry?  Why not send it to a homeless shelter??! :-)… The interesting thing about animal sacrifice is that there is no such thing…

Read more.

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“Bringing G-d Home” (2008)

 He called to Moses, and G-d spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting…  (Leviticus, 1:1)

 The grammar of this verse is problematic – “He called to Moses.”  WHO called to Moses?  Obviously, as we see at the end of the verse, it was G-d who called him.  Wouldn’t the verse be clearer if it said, “G-d called to Moses, and He spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting”?…  G-d… “shrank Himself” … 

Read more.

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“Keeping Score” (2006) 

I try to write a new Torah Talk message every week…I was planning to write a new message this week.  As you will soon see, I have good reason to send this message, from three years ago, once again. 

Last Shabbos, my family enjoyed the pleasure of hosting a couple whom we have known for many years…  As we sat at the table Friday night, I told them a story about a former student of mine.  I didn’t recall at the time that I had written up the story in Torah Talk, and I certainly didn’t realize that it was written in reference to this week’s Torah Portion. But I was totally unprepared for what met me on Sunday morning…

Read more.

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“Dehydrated Water” (2005)

… Salt is a preservative.  Before the days of refrigeration, they used to preserve meats by salting them.  A well-salted side of beef could last for months without being refrigerated.

Why would you want to preserve foods that are being “consumed” by G-d on the Altar?  If they’re being “eaten” right away, they won’t have time to spoil!  If you cook something and eat it immediately, there is no reason to keep it fresh by putting it in the Fridge!…

Read more.

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“Hey, YOU!” (2004)

… Did you ever send someone a well thought-out message by email?  A little while later, we receive the response — a short, terse, copy of our comments with a two-or-three word response.  No “hello,” no “good-bye,” just the proclamation from on high!…

Read more.

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“Little Big Man” (2001)

They say out there that Jews have horns.  Even Michelangelo thought so – you remember his famous statue of Moses with horns.  Where’d he get that crazy notion? …

Read more.

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 This is the weekly message at www.torahtalk.org.   Copyright © 2000-2011 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com)  and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on March 30, 2006 at 5:47 am  Leave a Comment  

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