By Rabbi Y. Dov Krakowski
With this week’s Sedra we begin Sefer Vayikra, a complex and detailed Sefer dealing with the laws of sacrifices. The idea of Korbanos (sacrifices) has existed since time immemorial. Adam Harishon brought Korbanos, his sons brought Korbanos etc. Underlying the concept of Korbanos is the basic and natural of man giving back to God. This being the case, it should be a relatively simple topic about which to instruct us. However this isn’t the case. The Torah dedicates one of its Five Books in its entirety to this subject.
It is clearly incumbent upon us to know the various particulars regarding the Avoda of the Korbanos once they have been given; but why must there be so many particulars?
When the Torah commands us regarding interpersonal behavior – the Torah tells us ואהבת לריעך כמך (love your fellow as you love yourself) – it requires us to do for others as we would like done to ourselves. Why doesn’t the Torah tell us that we should act towards others as they wish to be treated?
Furthermore, when the Tana Hillel explains this teaching of the Torah he explains it as a negative obligation: don’t do to others what you would not want them to do to you. Why did Hillel find it necessary to put this injunction in the negative form?
The answer to these questions is one and the same. The Torah cannot request from us what we don’t know – and we cannot possibly know how others wish to be treated. What we do know is how we wish to be treated. Thus the Torah commands us to project our likes and dislikes onto others in order to insure some level of human decency. However this level of decency is far from perfect because what we might want is not necessarily be the same as what another might want. It is no doubt for that reason that Hillel formulated his prescription in the negative. Projecting our likes onto others could turn out to be hurtful and may not be appropriate. To refrain from doing to others what we would not want done to ourselves on the other hand is easier, safer, and at the very least avoids causing potential harm. No action is better than the wrong action.
This is true for interpersonal relationships. When it comes to Retzon Hashem, however, things are different. Hashem indeed tells us exactly how He wants it done. The Torah is teaching us an extremely important lesson: an individual’s scope is limited. When one gives one should ideally give in a way which is pleasant and desired by the receiver – not just what makes the giver feel good.
A very warm Good Shabbos, Rabbi Y. Dov Krakowski