Thursday, April 2, 2009

Vayikra-Tzav: Cleanup

Whether I've mentioned this inyan before or not, I think it bears repeating, especially with regards the current world economic matzav—and its backstory.

There are those who may wonder why the first pesukim taught in “cheder” [or the modern-day equivalent] are the first five pesukim in Vayikra, and the question has been answered in many ways.

I will posit that is has something to do with the inyan discussed in Rashi: “Adam ki-yakriv mikem”: just like Adam owned everything at the commencement of maasei Bereshis [as he was the only person around], and therefore could not have been nechshad in gezel, so too your spiritual endeavors and striving should be equally free of the taint of misappropriation.

Or, in plainer English, don’t take what doesn’t belong to you.

Not to say that the “Torah al regel achas” that Hillel taught [Shabbos 31a]--"that which you hate, don't do to others--a paraphrase of the command to love your neighbor—is any less an “entire Torah”; but teaching not to take what’s not yours is likely the clearest illustration of said principle, which makes it so basic, and such a perfect teachable moment to those starting out on “mikra”/”Vayikra”.

The parallels to the economic mess don’t need to be borne out [i.e., I don’t have to name names]. I think we could say that the brouhahas over bonuses seem to indicate that there just might be this idea that people are taking what doesn’t belong to them, so there is still hope for us.

Now that was last week. But it connects to this week. As R’ Shlomo Ressler pointed out this week:

“Our Parsha, Tzav, informs us that the priests’ first task of the day was to remove the ashes from the offering sacrificed the previous day (Leviticus 6:3). Is there any significance to this being the priests’ first order of business with which to start the day?

Rabbi Avi Weiss explains that the priest begins the day by removing the ashes to illustrate the importance of his remaining involved with the mundane. Too often, those who rise to important positions separate themselves from the people and abandon the everyday menial tasks. By starting the day with ash-cleaning, the Torah insists it shouldn’t be this way.”

I’m going to try to take that idea a step further. You’ll notice that, in describing the inyan of “Adam ki Yakriv Mi-kem”, I mentioned that one’s spiritual endeavors should be free of any taint of gezel. Why did I mention—or, for that matter, why even use spiritual endeavors—to illustrate the idea of why stealing is wrong?

I think that Rabbi Weiss’ idea of trumas hadeshen illustrates another basic, if ignored truism: that, while it may or may not be true that “no good deed goes unpunished”, what IS true that the “spiritual business” [I just made that up…I think] is, of necessity, a dirty business. Even the most sublime of offerings—the Olah, which is all for On High—leaves ashes that need to be cleaned up, AND those ashes most be lceaned up on a daily basis—FIRST.

I think we can link “Adam ki-yakriv mikem” and trumas hadeshen in two ways.

One: don’t be afraid [or, as Rabbi Weiss is trying to say, don’t act “too important”] to clean up a “mess”. It just night be the task of someone of your stature. I’ve discussed before how Yoram Hazony, in his seminal treatment of Megillas Esther, “The Dawn”, makes a demarcation between “morality” and “purity”, and how the former influenced Mordechai’s actions in the Purim story. Specifically, Mordechai was willing to get “dirty” when necessary [e.g., the sha’ar hamelech was not exactly a beis medrash. But read Hazony for further explanation.]

Two: one can take the “yakriv mi-kem” admonition against gezel specifically to a more genral principle: don’t ever expect that ends almost never justify the means. The principles of “aseh docheh lo ta’aseh” and “es la’asos lashem heferu torasecha”, among others, are important exceptions, but ones that prove the rule generally. And realize that even if you are truly makriv mi-kem, there will always be deshen to clean up, and you should be prepared to—and, more importantly, not be ashamed or too proud—to clean up.

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