By Rabbi Nosson Greenberg
In this week’s parsha Hashem introduces Moshe to the halachos of different korbonos – sacrifices that must be brought as a means of purifying one’s character and mind of various sins. Rav Asi (Vayikra Rabbah 7,3) tells us that the topics of Sefer Vayikra should be taught to small children before teaching them any other portion of the Torah. The rationale he gives is that children whose minds are still pure should come and toil in the subjects that deal with purity.
There is a tremendous message in Rav Asi’s idea. The Torah can only be fully understood and appreciated if learnt with an uncluttered and unsullied mind. Any attempt to plumb the depths of the Torah with a mind that has had its space taken up with pre-conceived worldly notions and exposure to too much Olam Hazeh will not bear the correct fruits. Especially portions of the Torah like Sefer Vayikra that prescribe a pursuit of purity are nearly impossible to fully comprehend if one has been exposed to the sordid underbelly of earthly pursuits. Rav Asi therefore wisely advised that Vayikra should be learnt by the yiddishe kinderlach with minds still as pure as the driven snow.
Just one question then; what hope is there for us adults as we begin another cycle of Sefer Vayikra? Is there any way that we can do justice in attempting to understand the laws of Korbonos and the protocols of taharah with brains attuned to the world as we know it, a world of spiritual gloom and doom?
I once saw a most beautiful parable from the Imrei Yosef that we can use to explain our ability to learn all areas of Torah with absolute success. There was once a poor man who received as a gift a bottle of wine. But not any old bottle of wine. This was a magnificent wine, a great vintage, a creme de la creme of wines. He couldn’t wait to taste it, and so that night after his meager meal he uncorked it. Looking around for a clean glass, he is dismayed to see that all of his glasses are dirty. He goes over to his water pail to wash out one of the glasses but the pail is empty. It’s too late to go out to the well and get water. He is besides himself. Here he has a great bottle of wine ready to be poured, his salivary glands are working overtime, and yet he has nary a clean glass. Such a wine cannot be drunk straight from the bottle, perish the thought! As he is about to resign himself to having to wait until the morning he suddenly has a “Eureka!” moment. He pours some of that expensive wine into one of the dirty glasses, swishes it around, and using the wine he cleans out the glass. After spilling out that wine and with a glass now clean of dirt, he pours himself a healthy measure of new wine, savors its bouquet, makes a bracha and enjoys the most delicious wine he has ever tasted.
We are that poor man. Hashem has given us a wonderful gift called the Torah, the greatest of vintages. But when we open our gemaras and sefarim and uncork the Torah, ready to be intoxicated by its stunning properties, we realize we do not have a clean receptacle within which to put that Torah and really enjoy its true flavor. What can we do? Like the man in the parable, we take some of that Torah, learn it for a while, and put it into our minds, hearts and souls. We let it sit and soak for a few minutes, then swish it around hopefully cleansing every nook and cranny. And hperhaps then we metamorphosize into those holy yiddishe kinderlach with unadulterated minds and we can drink heartily from any part of the Torah, appreciating all its beauty and majesty.
Welcome back to Pre 1A.
Rabbi Nosson Greenberg is rov of Khal Machzikei Torah of Far Rockaway, N.Y., and maggid shiur at Yeshiva of Far Rockaway.